Pedro from La Mancha returns…

After two masculine films “Habla con ella” and “La mala educación,” Pedro from La Mancha returns to his childhood home and his women-clad films, while snatching the Best Screenplay award from Cannes on the way.

Needless to say, La Mancha isn’t only famous for being Almodovar’s hometown. Most of us have long been acquainted with this Spanish suburban town from literature’s best: Don Quixote. And Don Quixote’s windmills turn up as Almodovar’s wind turbines in “Volver”. Similarly, La Mancha’s dry and windy climate enhances the feeling of timelessness and solitude, which facilitates the smooth transition from reality to fiction at several instances in the film.

Like so many of Almodovar’s films from the 80s and 90s, the main characters are powerful women. These women emerge from Almodovar’s male-free childhood days where he spent most his time among the women of his family, observing their conversations, emotions and problems. However, this film isn’t autobiographic like “La mala educacion.” On the contrary, Almodovar admits that, even though he has referred to his own experiences while creating the film’s plot and characters for credibility; eveything in “Volver” is 100% fictitious.

The film opens up with a marvellous Almodovar signature sequence: the women of La Mancha are engrossed, cleaning graves in a cemetery, while we hear the “La Rosa del Azafran” operetta on the soundtrack. This opening sequence is somewhat of a harbinger; familiarizing the audience with the part that death plays in these women’s lives, a part that is inescapable. Just as in the films of Hitchcock, the main theme of “Volver” is not immediately obvious. Although murder is the most grabbing event that takes place, it is only a macguffin. What Almodovar aims – perhaps implicitly – to show that death is a part of life, and only by recognizing and accepting the past and death can one shed some light on the future.

It is not incidental that the film is named “Volver” (eng. return) There are a numerous returns throughout. Although ‘return from the beyond,’ namely, resurrection is the most dramatic of these returns; the most substantial return is the one to the past. As the past gains such significance, so does confrontations with the past. While Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) and Sole (Lola Duenas) confront with their recently resurrected mother Irene (Carmen Maura), Almodovar confronts with his own past. Happily for Almodovar fans, this also means that he is returning to his estrogen-filled former movies and his beloved female stars Carmen and Penelope.

Almodovar’s women are constantly giving a fight for survival, with opponents ranging from harrassing fathers, absentee husbands or just plain poverty. Even so, Almodovar’s women are always there for each other. The relationships of this family of women and the bonds between its members are so strong that the absence of men is barely noticed. And instead of depicting these relationships with emotional sequences, Almodovar chooses to add comic elements such as the high-pitched kissing routines.

Illustrating the power of the past and lost ones over the living, “Volver” is a typical Almodovarian melodrama. Perhaps because of Almodovar’s effortless style, or due to the Spanish fondness for melodrama, the presence of death throughout the film doesn’t make it a full-fledged tragedy or drama. In fact, even though the film is filled with tragic events, the film brings out laughter more than tears. Of course, a resurrected mother that tends to giggle and fart isn’t drama material (so much the better.) Comic elements like these don’t make “Volver” a farce, rather it is such small details that make Almodovar’s films such natural and humanist ones. Over all, “Volver” is at times emotional, but more often warm and good-humored like Almodovar’s women.

Rating: A