Saturday, June 17, 2006

Film Notes: Volver (2006)

First off, a few things about the French moviegoing experience:
1) Popcorn avec sucre- Or with sugar. It's not my thing, but worth trying once.
2) The trailers and commercials last for something like 20 minutes. And, weirdly enough, they stop about halfway through, the lights come on, and everyone sits there and reads their papers for a minute, and then they start again. This has happened at both movies I've seen, and I have no idea why there's an intermission in the trailers.
3) After the movie, people hang out and talk about the movie, in the theatre. Most of them do not leave until the credits are over. In this case, they were staying to watch credits in Spanish.
4) Almost nowhere else has air-conditioning, so it's good to go to the movies in the summer.

Now, for the movie. What can I say? You have to love Pedro Almodóvar; not only are his movies highly entertaining, usually alternating between the kinky and outrageous and the melodramatic, but unlike a number of other directors who focus often on women, like say Woody Allen, he actually seems to adore his female characters. And here he has almost nothing but female characters to work with. And some great actresses to play them, including returning Almodóvar vets Penelope Cruz and Carmen Maura.

The story is about a group of women relying on each other to survive in la Mancha Spain. It is surprisingly heartfelt, and even a gentle movie for the director. And, sad to say, the kinky stuff is left out here. But, it's not exactly Beaches either- the story actually gets going when a teenage girl kills her father for trying to have his way with her. Or, actually not her actual father. It's complicated, like the best soap operas inevitably are. Cruz plays Raimunda, a loving mother whose daughter has killed her husband and who has to find a way to dispose of his body. Meanwhile, her beloved Aunt Paula has died and her mother, who is also dead, has returned to live with her sister Sole and resolve the unfinished business of her life. Eventually, she becomes the emotional center of the group formed by her daughters and grand-daughter and neighbor Augustina. And, before long, everyone in town knows that Sole has her mother's ghost living with her, and they're all okay with it.

Pedro Almodóvar evokes the world of his childhood, with its superstitions, in a way that is gentle and amusing. The first scene, with an army of women cleaning the graves of loved ones, reminded me of the picnicks that my grandmother used to drag my grandfather to, in the cemetery to visit loved ones. Death is a part of life in much of Europe to this day, and I liked how the director captured that. The acting is superb, and the movie is surpisingly slow and attentive. I think that Almodóvar is also drawing from Italian neorealism here, and Penelope Cruz looks just like a character in one of those classic Italian films.

Anyway, this film probably won't get a huge release when it comes to the states in October, but it's worth checking out because it's genuine and funny and fascinating. Even without the kink.

No comments: