Volver (meaning “to return”) is another manifestation of the genius of Pedro Almodovar, who is known to make films on idiosyncratic interpersonal relationships. In this movie, the protagonist, Raimunda (outstandingly portrayed by Penelope Cruz) is going through a rough patch in life when certain events make her come to terms with harsh realities and evaluate her own relationships with other characters in the movie.
The movie starts with the scene of many women, including Raimunda, her sister Soledad, and daughter Paula, cleaning tombstones of their relatives on a windy day in a Spanish village. Raimunda is cleaning her parents’ tombstones ,who according to her, died in a fire few years ago. Even though the information is mentioned in a nonchalant fashion, it lays the foundation for what’s to follow in the movie, and is central to the plot.
As the movie progresses, more details about the personal life of Rainumda unfold. Her husband, Paco, tries to rape their daughter Paula, who kills him unintentionally. Before he is stabbed to death by Paula, he discloses to her that he is not her biological father (Paula is presumably underage). On finding out a terrified but circumspect Raimunda carefully removes all the evidences and buries his body in a spot by a river.
In a parallel thread in the movie, Sole and Rainumda’s mother (Irene) visits Sole and starts living with her, and is assumed to be a ghost by a terrified Sole, who tries to keep her identity secret, even from Raimunda. Raimunda’s childhood friend Agustina, is battling cancer, and her last wish is to find out what happened to her mother who disappeared on the same day Raimunda’s parents died.
All the stories are linked and by the time Augustina tells Raimunda that her father, and Agustina’s mother had an affair, the picture starts to emerge in entirety. Raimunda claims that this is not true and her parents were in love, “who died in each others’ arms”. However, she knows deep down that Agustina is right and it is clear she’s fighting some internal demons. Apparently, Raimunda and Irene are estranged, the reasons for which are revealed later. Later, Raimunda comes to know about her mother’s ghost and realizes that it was not her mother, but her father and Augustina’s mother who died in the fire that night. Irene had set fire to the house killing them both and vanished to escape prosecution.
In the climax, it is disclosed that Paula’s biological father is her grandfather, who had raped his daughter, Raimunda( who is Paula’s sister, as well as her mother). Raimunda and her mother have a mother-daughter talk and Irene realizes why her daughter was distant – and this and the infidelity of her husband drove her to kill him and Agustina’s mother. The movie ends with Raimunda and her mother patching up, embracing in a moment of sentimentality, where her mother remarks, “The ghosts don’t cry.” With these words, she goes back to tending to Agustina (who believes Irene is a ghost), as she believes she has wronged her (by killing her mother) and vows to take care of her until her last breath.
The acting is par excellence and coupled with Almodovar’s unique way of story telling, it is transformed into a very honest yet complex portrayal of a woman, who’s been through a lot in life, yet who doesn’t come undone by the cruelties and misfortunes that life has bestowed her with. In Volver, he addresses the subject of death, relationships and superstitions (folks of the Spanish village in the movie believe in ghosts). A profound story told intensely, where emotions are subtle, yet impactful, on the faces of characters that themselves weave a story of their own within a bigger story.
Almodovar’s direction at its peak, and supported well by arguably Cruz's best performance till date!