Volver – Pedro Almodovar

Volver (Poster)

Placement.

Film is about placement. Almodovar places us in a few interesting places and understands the mechanics enough to overlap them in symphony.

First, his world is one of women (or a male extension of them), always under the guise of performance. Life is a dangerous game whose mechanics trigger death and loss of love, only the most performing performers can make it. He has a deep appreciation for film so he references previous film performers that annotate archetypes for his idea of his characters.

Second, his world is one of film, and he is one of the most eloquent simply in conveying a narrative visually. In fact he is so precise that he works on an entirely stylized level. Just watch how the killing is setup here (just so you don’t miss it, it is accidental), steeped deep in the world of movie-suspense (the aerial shot of the weapon, and the score) down to the presentation of the body before the cleaning.

On this same level of stylization, but on a seperate thread, we have the melodrama. I prefer to call it un-melodrama because as a question of placement it has its shape, but really is exploited for its pull only. Almo’s method is to distance himself from reality enough to find a place between the purely constructed world of film and the emotions and honesty of the characters. Here, he grazes the soul so precisely that it made many in the audience cry, men and women, including my own mother who had figured out the plot twist halfway through. That’s so you know, the story is not the point, but the vessel. What stays with you are the emotional pit stops.

And can we applaud Ms. Cruz for how well she navigates here?

The third level is the symphony, the arrangements, the reference to its own weaving. This is a Spanish thing. Our principal suspect is Cervantes and his Quixote, which is referenced here at the start (so you know what’s about to take place) in the form of the windmills in La Mancha (incidentally where Almo was born). Here, the sails rotate as a strong wind blows. This wind is important. It is what sets the mechanics forth. It is the reason we have a story. Add to that the two instances of ‘fabricated realities’: the story of the ‘ghost’ mother returning, and the presence of a film crew chancing on Ms. Cruz and hiring her as caterer for the duration of the shoot. We never find out what film this crew is actually shooting…but wouldn’t you know by now?

I want to point out the singing performance here. If you look at it cinematically, its placement recalls the bowling scene in Buffalo ’66 which was a film that playfully moved in and out of explicit self-reference. It works in the same way here, but of course the pulls are stronger.

I don’t have a rating system implemented yet, but if I did, I would rank this as one of the best films of 2006, along with The New World which I viewed almost twelve months ago. It was a bad year for film, but these round it up nicely. Hopefully next year will be best with a new Korine, a new Medem, and the Todd Haynes film about Bob Dylan.

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Categories: Notes

1 reply »

  1. I found Volver one of the most over-rated films of 2006. It has lots going for it stylistically, but it’s all superficial. The underlying humanity is really lacking in Almodovar’s work. I’d even go so far as to say that there’s a barely hidden nasty sexist streak.

    I suspected it after much rumination after seeing the film. I’d seen several Almodovar films, liked each of them, but wondered why they didn’t have as much impact on me as other cinephiles. I saw Volver, posted my review, and then rented a couple of earlier films on DVD, All About My Mother and Bad Education.

    I’m not content with just these two past references and intend seeing as much of Almodovar’s earlier works as I can. But using just these two, I find that in spite of superficially different stories, each film is virtually a carbon copy of each other. Each has so many similarities that I find distasteful, it’s not funny. Each has an obsession with female (or trans-sexual) breasts, as much as any cheap porno flick. Each demonises heterosexual males who have miniscule roles, who seem to only exist to show how pathetic, shallow and sexually-focused hetero males are. And each idolises women, homosexuals, transvestites and trans-sexuals regardless of their many serious flaws.

    While I find the perverted and unconventional characters, and the dramatic elements appealling, I find Almodovar squanders the opportunity to get emotionally involved in his films by including over-the-top melodrama that verges on slapstick and totally undermines plausibility. I list some of these in my review which, by the way, is more flattering of the film, than my comments here.

    I follow a five star system, and gave it 3.5, perhaps generously. I do like the technical and other aspects.

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