Pedro Almodóvar adores women, and he’s a champion of feminism. In no other film is the Spanish filmmaker’s reverence for the female gender more evident than in the 2006 drama Volver. An ode to womanhood and resilience, Almodóvar’s story explores the inner and outer conflict of its female protagonists who are fiercely independent. In the world of Volver, men occupy little screen-space as the women take charge of their lives.
Set in Madrid and the small Spanish town of Alcanfor de las Infantas, Volver tackles many complex themes such as sexual abuse, murder, superstition, death, grief and redemption. But above all, it is a tale of female solidarity, strength, love, kindness and grace. When Raimunda’s (Penelope Cruz) jobless and irresponsible husband Paco (Antonio de la Torre) attempts to rape their 14-year-old daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo), he is stabbed to death by Paula in self-defense. What follows is Raimunda cleaning the blood-drenched kitchen floor and packing away Paco’s dead body with Paula’s help. Almodóvar establishes the strength of his female characters in this initial scene by displaying their composure and presence of mind in the face of such adversity. In Volver, women don’t allow themselves to be disrespected by anyone. Raimunda’s mother Irene (Carmen Maura) learns about her husband’s affair with Agustina’s (Blanca Portillo) mother, and burns down the hut in which they both were having sex. Even Raimunda’s sister, Sole (Lola Duenas), is portrayed as a strong and independent woman who is divorced and sustains herself by running a beauty parlor at home.
In Volver, Almodóvar thematically highlights female kinship and solidarity. His female characters stand by each other through thick and thin, evidenced by the sibling bond shared by Raimunda and Sole, who have been each other’s support system since their father’s death and their mother’s disappearance. The acts of kindness and generosity are not just restricted to blood relations. All the female characters are shown to be helpful and supportive in Almodóvar’s world. Agustina, a neighbor of Raimunda’s Aunt Paula, was entrusted with the responsibility of looking after her while she was alive. Plus, a few of Raimunda’s friends share their meat supply and desert boxes with her when she has to urgently cook food for a film crew of around 30 people. A prostitute friend even helps Raimunda dispose of the freezer containing Paco’s dead body.
The inner beauty of these lovely women is further highlighted in acts of forgiveness and redemption. Despite the ghastly intentions of Raimunda’s husband, she is gracious enough to cremate his body near one of his favorite spots by a river. She also readily mends the strained relationship with her mother, and forgives her for their tumultuous past. Even Irene displays compassion when she decides to take care of a cancer-stricken Agustina.
Like most Almodóvar films, external beauty and color are abundant in Volver. Cruz looks drop-dead gorgeous and sensuous in her varied colorful attires. The director makes sure to accentuate her beauty through different camera angles, but it’s Cruz’s acting performance that tends to draw more attention throughout the film, as she became first Spanish woman to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. As Raimunda, Cruz showcases a variety of emotions ranging from pain, fear, guilt, anger, laughter and — above all — love. It is during the tender moments of reconciliation in which the actress truly shines with her brilliance. With Volver, Almodóvar created a beautiful film that highlights the triumphant spirit of women.
Arun A.K. (@arunusual) is a communications professional based in Mumbai, India. He feels indebted to MUBI for renewing his interest in cinema and also helping him explore the world of experimental cinema. Besides writing about films, Arun likes to occasionally dabble in creative writing as well.