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September 09, 2006
Keep Returning, Pedro

When the Cannes jury announced they had given their Best Actress award to the entire female cast of “Volver”, I thought to myself “what a copout”. I still feel this way. But when one actually sees the film, it’s impossible not to sympathize with the jury’s decision. For what an extraordinary female cast!

Penelope Cruz will undoubtedly get the most buzz for the role that is likely to put her into contention for a Best Actress nomination. This is easily her best work to date – appropriately understated, believably layered and with a tremendous sense of honesty. No one apart from Almodovar appears to know how to get greatness out of her. But he sure does.

Lola Dueñas’ understated and tremendously honest performance is exactly what her role calls for while Blanca Portillo and Yohana Cobo shine in their smaller roles.

Yet it’s ultimately Carmen Maura who steals the show and, in many ways, elevates the film to a quality it would not have otherwise had. It’s her arrival that truly ‘picks up’ the film and her joy, her wisdom and her layers add up to the viewer relishing every moment she’s onscreen.

The film does take a while to truly ‘get going’ with much of the opening 20 minutes not totally compelling. But once it ‘picks up’, it’s impossible not to be entranced by a wonderful blend of humour, heartbreak and reflections on human life. Almodovar knows how to tell a story where we care about characters who may be atypical…yet still feel so relatable.

This is a very mainstream film for Pedro, which is in no way a ‘bad thing’. Yet perhaps the lack of the typical Almodovar edge prevents me from saying it’s among his true masterworks. Something truly ‘profound’ is missing.

But one shouldn’t grade on a curve for greats. Compelling, touching, funny, beautifully and concisely told, “Volver” is already another deserved success for Almodovar. And being in an audience (which cheered when Almodovar's name came on screen in the opening credits) that laughed at the right times, was in shock at the times and was legitimately moved at the right times, it's obvious that that success is going to continue.

More screenings on the way…stay tuned.


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