Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Un meños Almodóvar

By Edward Copeland
The run that Pedro Almodóvar has been on of late has been astounding. He's been one of those rare filmmakers who seemed to be on an upward slope, growing deeper and better as his career progressed, steering away from his campier earlier works to more thoughtful films such as All About My Mother, Bad Education and the incomparable Talk to Her. So it was probably inevitable that at some point, he'd have to slide backward a bit.

That is the case with Volver which, while good, doesn't hold a candle to his recent body of work.

One thing that Volver does offer though is a chance for Penélope Cruz to give her best performance ever, one that has deservedly earned her an Oscar nomination. Time and time again, seeing performers get to act in their native languages has proved eye-opening.

In addition to Cruz, this year has given Ken Watanabe a chance to shine in Letters From Iwo Jima while recent years have caused me to re-evaluate Javier Bardem after seeing The Sea Inside and Connie Nielsen after viewing Brothers.

Volver paints perceptions of Cruz in bright, brash new colors as she plays a Spanish mom with a 14-year-old child and a good-for-nothing husband as well as a late mother (Carmen Maura), whose ghost has been appearing to her sister.

To give much more away, would spoil the unfolding of the plot. While Volver is entertaining and Cruz is great as is Maura (reunited at last with Almodóvar nearly 20 years after Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), something about it doesn't quite jell.

Eventually, the pieces come together, but instead of intriguing me, at times it just made me impatient as the film appeared to be running on separate tracks. However, Volver is worth a look because even a lesser Almodóvar is better than no Almodóvar at all.

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I'm surprised you didn't enjoy this film more - it's not quite at the same level of Talk to Her or All About My Mother, but a vast improvement on Bad Education, and I found it enjoyable from start to finish. It's really an homage to the voluptuous earth mother prototype of postwar European (specifically Italian neo-realist) cinema - it's no accident that Penelope Cruz has been padded-out and bouffanted to evoke Sophia Loren, and I love how Almodovar threw in some footage of the great Magnani in Bellissima towards the end to reinforce the parallel. Cruz was quite good in what is, by far, her best screen work to date, but I do think the nomination was a teensy bit generous. I haven't seen Dench in Notes on a Scandal, but I don't think Cruz's work here is quite in the same league as that of the three other nominees I have seen. For me, the standout was Maura, giving a sly yet tender performance that perfectly embodies the filmmaker's signature blend of mischief and pathos. All and all, I'd say that Volver is a fine new addition to what has become a stellar body of work by one of the modern cinema's most talented artists.
I think Volver would be worth a look based solely on the evidence in that still you printed. Has anyone ever looked so radiant in an Almodovar movie? I'm finally getting a chance to see this movie Saturday night, and while I'm perfectly prepared for the possibility that it might not rank at the top of my list of favorite Almodovar films, I can't wait to see Penelope Cruz channeling, by all appearances, Sophia Loren and Anna Magnani.
I did like Volver, just not as much as the others, including Bad Education. It just seemed to me that it took too long to unite the two tracks, even though it all made sense once they did. Maura was the standout for me, but I did think Cruz was quite good even though in the Oscar category for best actress, I'd rank her fifth. Still, I think her nomination was earned even though I wish Maggie Gyllenhaal had made the cut for sherrybaby.
after a second viewing I'm starting to not regard this as lesser Almodovar (and like you said --even lesser Almodovar is a good thing)

For me, Cruz outshines at least two of the other Oscar competitors this year. It's such a relaxed performance (always a plus) but it has so much texture to it, dramedic range, and ample hints of her life before the events of the movie. Just her rapid, confused, tearful and overwhelmed exit after seeing her mother is more emotionally potent than anything Helen Mirren cooks up this year in The Queen
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