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With all of the attention lavished (and rightfully so) upon Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth in recent months, you might not have noticed another Spanish film to sparsely hit theatres lately, Pedro Almodóvar's Volver which translated means ‘to return’. I was extremely fortunate enough to catch it during its theatrical run earlier this year and am hoping this disc does the film justice. If it flat-out sucks, it wouldn't be the first time a foreign film was given crap treatment by a major studio, that's for sure.

Volver

Feature


You might be asking yourself now ‘What's returning?’ and the answer would be the past in copious amounts. I'm talking painful, repressed, ‘wish it could be forgotten’, ‘not the kind you'd want to reminisce about’ past. The same kind of past that unfortunately, is about to repeat itself for our unlucky heroines.

The film focuses on two sisters played by Penélope Cruz and Lola Dueñas, Raimunda and Sole respectively, who begin to uncover mysteries from their younger days triggered by the passing of their aunt. Up until her death, she would constantly tell the girls that their mother was taking good care of her with day to day activities such as cooking and cleaning. Here's the problem; their mother died along with their father in a house-fire several years ago. The girls dismiss it, however, and chalk it up to senility.

Volver
Sole soon begins to question her own sanity (as does the audience) when she too encounters her late mother hiding in the trunk of her car. The local people of La Mancha believe that a spirit of the dead can return to the world of the living if they have unfinished business. The question now on the tip of Sole's tongue as well as the audience's is this; what unfinished business does her mother have in the world of the living?

Writer/director Pedro Almodóvar does with Volver what he does best—makes it a film about strong women overcoming all kinds of hardship. He takes a premise which could've easily slipped into being horror, science fiction or suspense with any other director and plays it straight-faced. Both he and his cast all take the material very seriously and it's refreshing to see them carry out a different kind of ‘ghost picture’. That's right; I didn't hesitate to classify this as a ‘ghost picture’ although I wouldn't be so sure as to what that ghost is for certain. It could be the mother just as much as it could be the unearthed past which never really left. Especially for Raimunda; her past has continued to haunt her all these many years, long enough to her to painfully see it begin to repeat itself.

Volver
If I had a complaint for Volver, it'd be that it's somewhat unclear what director Pedro Almodóvar is trying to say with his film. There are certain dualities that exist between generations that seem to suggest that history repeats itself and there's not a damn thing these characters can do to prevent it. It left me with a feeling of hopelessness for Raimunda and her daughter, Paula. This isn't as much a complaint as a bizarre observation; but Almodóvar has virtually no positive male figures in Volver. Any non-evil males that crop up are mainly one-dimensional stock characters. I might suppose this too is not unexpected of Almodóvar.

I can't finish out my critique of the feature without giving ample praise to Penélope Cruz as Raimunda. Although the flick has a marvellous cast of supporting performers, she really carries the picture and makes you believe her character is having to struggle through all of the adversity life is throwing her way. I sincerely hope that she'll put unforgettable classics like Gothika and Sahara behind her and work more with directors from her own culture. The way I see it is that her status as a celebrity could only help bring more Spanish films into American theatres.

On the whole, I enjoyed Volver very much as a beautiful and enchanting film. Told across the spectrum of three generations, the story is rich with human drama. It might even elicit a few tears close to the end.

Volver

Video


Volver is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The Spanish city of La Mancha leaps off the screen in this presentation with vivid sharpness and colours aplenty. As highlighted on the DVD artwork, bright red is the gorgeous highlight of the visual style; rich and vibrant (notably during a bloody murder clean-up scene).

Audio


I listened to the film with its Dolby Digital 5.1 track and was satisfied. Truthfully, I pay less attention to the audio of a dialogue-heavy film such as this one when subtitles are involved. Fortunately, no English dub track is included so the film can be preserved the way it was meant to be heard. Music and environmental sound come across well but it's nothing terribly exciting. I've no complaints, I've no compliments.

Volver

Extras


First up is an audio commentary with writer/director Pedro Almodóvar and star Penélope Cruz. Unfortunately it's in Spanish, but Sony have been good enough sports to subtitle it for non-Spanish speakers. I just didn't have the patience or the urge to sit through the entire subtitled commentary so I can't much comment on how great or not great it is.

Following the commentary are five featurettes totalling roughly fifty minutes. They include 'Making of Volver], 'Tribute to Penélope Cruz' and individual interviews with Almodóvar, Cruz and Carmen Maura. All of these are mostly in Spanish but again, are subtitled. I personally enjoyed the 'Making Of...' the most because of its on-set footage montage. It really shows you how much physical effort it took to shoot the picture on location. The Cruz tribute was made by the American Film Institute and is a pretty enjoyable interview, more so than the standard one included.

Rounding out the supplements are a photo gallery, an alternate poster gallery and nine previews for other films. The poster gallery showcasing many unseen concepts is a highly interesting inclusion and one that more films should have on their DVD releases.

Volver

Overall


If you've got room for one more Spanish film in your movie viewing line-up, I highly encourage you to give Volver a look. It's a touching yet bold look at a group of women just trying to survive in scenic La Mancha, Spain. This disc boasts fantastic video, audio and supplements to boot. Thank Sony for having the gall to treat a foreign film right when it comes to its home video release.


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