For years, I wondered about the appeal of actress Penélope Cruz. Yeah, she dated Tom Cruz (who hasn’t?) and co-starred with him in “Vanilla Sky” (a remake of her earlier film, Abre los ojos (“Open Your Eyes”)) . I still didn’t understand what was the big deal about her. Then along came “Volver,” where Cruz gives a dynamic performance and therefore elimating any doubt I have about this Spanish beauty.
The film tells the story of two sisters living in Madrid. Raimunda (Cruz) lives with her daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo), and her husband, Paco (Antonio de la Torre), who’s always drunk. Her sister, Sole (Lola Dueñas), is separated and works clandestinely as a hairstylist for women. The two sisters lost their parents in a fire in La Mancha, their birth village, years ago. In the village remains only their aunt Paula that continue to speak about her sister Irene (Carmen Maura), mother of the two, as if she is still alive.
One day Raimunda comes home to find her husband dead in her kitchen. Seems he had the misfortune of making a sexual advance toward his step-daughter, Paula, and she took matters into her own hands. Instantly, Raimunda seeks to protect her by taking responsibility and disposing of the body. After a failed attempt, she hides it in a freezer in the store of a friend next door to her home.
Meanwhile, Sole has found out that their aunt Paula has died and invites Raimunda to attend the funeral with her. Too busy disposing her dead husband’s body, Raimunda passes to tend to matters closer to home. Sole accepts her late aunt’s condolences and makes her way home only to discover something that initially is shocking but later will bring their somewhat scattered family back together.
Raimunda has the good fortune of meeting a film crew member who is seeking a caterer to feed a film production crew making a movie. She opens up the closed store to cater meals for the cast — while keeping a close eye on the frozen corpse in the freezer. Sole is dealing with her new discovery and beginning to understand the meaning of compassion and forgiveness.
The film takes a minute to get jump started but once it does it’s rich layered texture grabs you and refuses to let go of your emotional heartstrings. Cruz is deliciously delightful in the lead role infusing her character with a tender vulnerability and humanity. Almodóvar magically weaves this somewhat humor story bringing out the best from not only Cruz, but the rest of this multi-talented cast of extraordinary women.
Almodóvar really succeeds in creating wonderful dialogue for his cast. As the entry from Mexico, “Volver” along with Germany’s “The Lives of Others” and Spain’s “Pan’s Labrynith,” this trio of films were easily some of the best foreign films released last year.
By the conclusion of “Volver,” your spirit will soar and hopefully, you’ll understand what Almodóvar does when he puts it in “Cruz Control.”