December 26, 2006 -- “Volver” is a spirited dark comedy about murder and the ghostly return of a mother from beyond the grave. The story contains at least three murders, and nobody is prosecuted for any of them. Another person dies during the movie, but despite all that, this is a light, charming comedy with some good performances by Penelope Cruz (“Sahara”) and others.
Cruz plays Raimunda, a woman working several jobs, supporting her daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo) and deadbeat husband, Paco (Antonio de la Torre). While visiting her elderly aunt, Paula (Chus Lampreave), Raimunda begins hearing rumors from the superstitious villagers that the apparition of her dead mother, Irene (Carmen Maura) has been seen in Irene's house. Raimunda's sister, Sole (Lola Dueñas of “The Sea Inside”) sees the apparition, but keeps it to herself. That would be enough plot for most movies, but this one goes a step further with the murder of Paco. Well, maybe not murder. It could be justified homicide. Anyway Raimunda hides the body in a nearby restaurant freezer. She doesn't own the restaurant, but is holding the keys to show it off for potential buyers. She reopens the restaurant with her daughter and friends to feed the cast and crew of a movie being shot in town.
Raimunda isn't the only person in the film with secrets. Her sister, Sole is hiding the ghost of her dead mother in plain sight. The ghost, introduced to the customers of her beauty solon as a homeless Russian, has to hide every time Raimunda comes around. At times she hides in a closet, sometimes under the bed. Eventually, Raimunda's daughter, Paula, finds out about the ghost and keeps that information from her mother.
Eventually Paco's frozen body is buried, the elderly aunt dies and the mystery of the apparition is revealed. It is all a bit busy and unnecessarily complicated, but it works. It is fun, charming and whimsical. It is a kind of fantasy, but solidly grounded in reality. You get the feeling that no matter what the obstacles, Raimunda will just keep sailing smoothly along, while barely taking notice of reality, unless it is entirely convenient to do so. Despite all the death, this is lighter fare than most movies by Pedro Almodóvar (“Bad Education” and “All About My Mother”). It is also less melodramatic. There is also a total lack of romance in it and very few men, who occupy only minor roles. There is also an absence of the usual flamboyant homosexual or transvestite characters that usually populate his films. This is a decidedly different film for Almodóvar. It is buoyed by rich, full performances by Cruz, Yohana Cobo, Carmen Maura and Lola Dueñas. It rates a B.
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