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Art House Ghost Story

Volver. Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, and
Blanca Portillo star in a film written and directed by Pedro
Almodóvar.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

Among the many pleasures woven into the latest Pedro
Almodóvar-directed feast are a few familiar Almodóvaran traits. The
Spanish auteur has an uncanny knack for telling a story with his
signature blend of cinematic panache, cheeky irreverence, and a
romantic glow. He knows the secret passageway into the female
psyche (or so it seems from this non-female’s perspective), and
Penélope Cruz is a much finer actress than her sometimes middling
Hollywood filmography allows her to show.

In Volver, Cruz — who last worked with Almodóvar in 1999’s All
About My Mother — is much more than a pretty face, although she
certainly possesses that. As the character Raimunda, she is a
wonder to behold, a woman caught between tangled generational
lines, would-be ghosts, and the thorny prospect of how to dispose
of a pesky corpse (a sleazy male, of course). Along the way, she
also runs a restaurant, squatter-style, gamely runs interference
between her sister and mother, and seductively sings the title
song.

As with many of Almodóvar’s films, one gets the impression he is
telling tragicomic ghost stories. But instead of the usual misty
woman dressed in white, his ghosts are bothersome memories and
events from the past in need of some resolution. In his latest,
part of a series of powerful films in Almodóvar’s oeuvre, all is
done up with a typical high, yet slightly sinister and comic,
style. Appropriately, Almodóvar — who shares some mordant humor and
surrealist tendencies with the late Luis Buñuel, another Spanish
legend — begins with an opening scene in a well-tended
graveyard.

Tale spinning may be Almodóvar’s primary mission, but he never
neglects the all-important sensory pieces of film. Composer Alberto
Iglesias — Almodóvar’s right-hand music man for several years
now — provides a cool, colorful score, sweet and atonal by turns,
which plays a critical role in the emotional undertoning of the
film. And cinematographer José Luis Alcaine captures the dense,
dizzy hues and the visual sensibility so often prevalent in
Almodóvar’s vocabulary.

Most importantly, Volver marks a memorable rapprochement between
Cruz and Almodóvar, the director who has given her some of her
finest screen moments. They’ve got to go on meeting like this.

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