Last night I saw it again: it was my third time!. It was broadcast on TV here in Italy, and I couldn’t help watching “Volver” once more.
It is a film written and directed by Pedro Almodovar and recalls Italian neorealism and the works of great directors such as Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, and Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Volver (which is a Spanish verb meaning “coming home, coming back”) revolves around an unusual family of women from a windy region south of Madrid.
Penélope Cruz, plays Raimunda, a hard working woman who has to protect her teenage Paula and to deal with her mother Irene ’s coming back from the dead, in order to fix the situations she couldn’t resolve during her life.
Raimunda and her sister Sole grew up in a small village in La Mancha and lost their parents in a fire, years ago. Sole returns there for the funeral of their old aunt Paula, whose neighbour Agustina says that she has heard Paula talking to the ghost of Sole’s mother, Irene. Sole meets the spirit herself, and when she goes back to Madrid, she finds the ghost hidden in the trunk of her car. Irene wants to stay with her daughter for a while, and Sole, though frightened, agrees to let her remain with her. Since she works clandestinely as a hairstylist for women in her apartment, Irene will assist her, pretending she is a Russian woman to hide her true identity.
Raimunda has not been able to go to the funeral, because faced with a different death: Paula has killed her unemployed father Paco, who was completely drunk and tried to rape her. Raimunda hides the corpse in the deep-freezer of a nearby restaurant whose owner has given Raimunda the keys so that she can show it to prospective tenants. When members of a film crew arrive at the restaurant, Raimunda starts catering for them, finding herself back in the restaurant business.
Agustina is diagnosed with terminal cancer and goes to hospital in Madrid , and when Raimunda goes to visit her, she is asked if she has seen her mother’s ghost. The question is put because Agustina hopes to learn something from the ghost: the fate of her own mother, who had an affair with Raimunda’s father and disappeared three years ago, on the same day when Raimunda’s parents died.
While she is trying to dispose of Paco’s remains, 180 kilometres away, her daughter stays in Sole’s apartment, where she meets her grandmother’s ghost and grows close to her.
After some time, the “ghost” confesses that she did not die in the fire, and tells her gloomy story. Raimunda’s father sexually abused her, resulting in the birth of Paula. Irene had never noticed the abuse (that’s why Raimunda looks always angry with her) and when eventually aunt Paula told her about that, she became furious with herself . Then she found her husband in bed with another woman, and started the fire that killed them both. After the fire, she wandered for some days in the countryside, until she decided to go to the police and admit the crime. But previously she went to say goodbye to her sister Paula, who had become unable to look after herself and was living in the past due to her dementia. The old woman welcomed her home as if nothing had happened, so Irene decided to stay, caring for her sister and expecting that the police would come soon to arrest her.
When the family reunites at Aunt Paula’s house, Irene reveals her presence to Agustina, and decides to stay in the village and care for her as she is seriously ill. In the last scene Raimunda visits her mother at Agustina’s house and the two embrace and tell each other that they can now start to repair their relationship.
Volver deals with themes like death, cancer, betrayal, parental abandonment, sexual abuse, loneliness, which would create an impression of dreariness and grief. Instead the film is light and soothing; and also absurd, comic, poignant, with mystery and suspense mixed with serendipitous solutions.