It's All Coming Back to Me
"Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?" - Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca
The answer to this question is no. The supernatural does not exist, only those who believe in it. Rebecca does not actually haunt Manderley. The characters in Rebecca only have their own demons they need to overcome.
The same thing can be said for Pedro Almodovar's latest, Volver. You can figure out that there is no ghost when she can't get out of the trunk of a car by herself. And yet the characters are still haunted. Everything centers on Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) and Sole (Lola Dueñas). Raimunda has a daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo) and a deadbeat husband, Paco (Antonio de la Torre). Sole is appropriately named, as she is sola (alone). But that is almost beside the point here. The few normal relationships we see or hear about are terrible. Paco does nothing but drink beer and lust after anyone near him, including his daughter. Similarly, Raimunda and Sole's father had a long-standing affair with a neighbor until they were killed in a fire. Almost every man portrayed in the film is a heartless bastard, in a complete gender reversal of the normal Hollywood stereotypes.
But this is not a story of fathers. This is a story of mothers and daughters. Irene (Carmen Maura), Raimunda and Sole's mother, comes to live with Sole, but she is afraid to see Raimunda. Augustina (Blanca Portillo) tries to find her mother before she dies of cancer. It turns out that Augustina's mother and Raimunda's father were the ones having the affair. And then there's the final revelation which explains why Raimunda has been angry with her mother for so long.
Almodovar's filmmaking looks effortless yet beautiful. He especially crafts every shot with Cruz. She is radiant from beginning to end, yet she adds enough depth to make her more than just a pretty face. Maura and Cruz together on screen absolutely sizzle, which is not to dismiss the rest of the cast. The only character that doesn't really feel whole is Paco, but he has less than 5 minutes of screen time, so he's not missed.
In a sense, this is a return to form for Almodovar, making his first women's picture since All About My Mother. It is as heartfelt as any of his previous works, yet it never slips into simple melodrama. It gets close, and the big revelation almost feels crammed to best suit the script's needs, but the whole thing bristles with enough energy to make up for it easily.
*** 1/2 / ****