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Volver’ breathes with tragedy, humor on DVD

Marty Schroeder | Monday, April 23, 2007

Pedro Almodóvar’s “Volver” is one of the saddest, funniest and heart-warming films to be released in recent memory. Starring Penélope Cruz and a host of other Spanish talent, this film is quirky without being inaccessible, tragic without being depressing and humorous without being trite. It is a beautiful piece of storytelling that is both local and universal in its themes.

“Volver” revolves around sisters Raimunda and Sole (Cruz and Lola Dueñas) and Raimunda’s daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo). When a tragic event befalls Raimunda’s husband, the film takes divergent paths by telling the story of Raimunda dealing with her now absent husband and the possibility that her mother may be haunting her aunt’s house.

While always a monumental task to tell multiple stories within one film, Almodóvar does it with skill and aplomb. Though the stories are not narrationally about the same things, they certainly are thematically. This is the strongest point of the film – the way in which Almodóvar weaves local traditions and stories of Spain into universal themes of family and community. Raimunda’s encounters with the denizens of her town are some of the most rewarding parts of the film and offer important lessons in a world that is becoming increasingly alienated from the concept of community.

Cruz shines and revels in her role. Although the film is in Spanish, even those who do not speak the language will understand her emotion and aptitude in the art of acting. She delves into her character being both harsh and loving in the space of a word. Her role as daughter, sister and parent bring out multiple facets of Almodóvar’s character and Cruz polishes all these facets until they shine brightly.

The DVD release is a single-disc edition that offers some sparse but worthwhile features. The American Film Institute (AFI) tribute to Cruz is an in-depth look at one of the most respected actors in the world that is not only able to make it big in her native Spain but also in the cutthroat world of Hollywood. The director and cast interviews are the best features on the DVD. Hearing the famed and storied Almodóvar talk about what it was like to make not only this film but also others is worth any sticker price. It is something akin to sitting at the feet of the master and absorbing everything he has to say. Alongside the interviews are commentaries by both Almodóvar and Cruz that offer new insights into the decidedly complex film. While there is something to be said about letting a film like “Volver” just sit in the mind for awhile with no outside commentary, what the two primary forces behind the film have to say is equally important.

Overall, this is a marvelous film that was loved by both critics and audiences. It may not be Almodóvar’s best work, but it is certainly one of his warmest. In the vein of the French “Amélie,” it warms even the coldest hearts. But unlike “Amélie,” this film takes a deeper look at the human soul and relishes in what it finds. The tangled mess of the soul reflects on the tangled mess that families can be. It doesn’t seek to undo the tangles; it rather tries to find a way into the loving core of those tangles that all of us have somewhere, however deep we may have it hidden.