If it’s one thing that those following the All About Family series for this month know (or should know), it’s that families often harbour secrets and lies greater than the sum of their parts, and that holding the pain of these secrets inside can be the slow corrosion which deteriorates the family structure. In Volver, a gripping Spanish family drama, audiences don’t just deal with the consequences of those secrets, but we also get a rare depiction of a family overcoming years of hurt and finally learning how to heal.
Volver uses an incredibly talented ensemble cast but centers sister Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) and Soledad (Lola Duenas), who grew up in the very small Spanish village of Alcanfor de las Infantas, but currently live in the big city of Madrid. The sisters have been orphaned adults for the past three years, following a fire which killed their parents, so when Soledad returns home for the funeral of her dementia-stricken aunt, Paula (Chus Lampreave), she is shocked to hear Paula’s neighbour, Agustina (Blanca Portillo) confide that she has heard the ghost of Soledad’s mother, Irene (Carmen Maura), speaking to Paula. Soledad later runs into this ghost herself and discovers upon returning home that the “ghost” has stowed away in the trunk of her car, complete with its luggage. #Pause
Soledad, who still believes that what is clearly not a ghost and eats, sleeps, and drinks like a living person, is the ghost of her mother, asks Irene if she had left any unfinished business, and allows her mother to work in her hair salon (under a new identity) until they get to the bottom of this mystery. Meanwhile, Raimunda, who hates her mother and hadn’t spoken to her for many years before the fire, is still ignorant of the “ghost” living with her sister and can only concern herself with the safety of her daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo). Raimunda comes home one day to find her husband dead and the blood on the hands of her daughter, who killed him in self-defense when he attempted to rape her. In disposing of Paula’s father, Raimunda must deal with her own traumatic past, and unwittingly finds herself recovering dreams that she had long ago put aside.
Piggybacking off the plot of his 1995 film, The Flower of My Secret, Almodovar blends neorealism, magical realism, and incorporates community, sisterhood, and solidarity into a film that is heartbreaking, uplifting, captivating and moving. Volver does what so many films fail to in focusing on the psychology of this group of women and how their relationships with men threatened to destroy them, but their bond with one another restored them. In working through their own pain and exposing the secrets that kept that pain inside, each woman sheds the psychological obstacles which have held her back and move closer to the sort of family they’ve always wanted.
I give this one 5 stars.