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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 24, 2014

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In Movies & TV

Almodovar's latest, Cruz's greatest


Penelope Cruz comes across as a so-so actress. There are few times that she seems worth the role she's been given. However, director Pedro Almodovar has brought out something in her in the new movie "Volver," that redeems anything she's done in the past. Her Best Actress Academy Award nomination for the film proves that.

A pair of sisters, Raimunda and Sole (Cruz and Lola Dueñas), spend their days working in various capacities. Raimunda has several jobs to keep her family -- comprising a daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo), and an umemployed, worthless husband Paco (Antonio de la Torre) -- afloat. Sole, on the other hand, only has one job that she's able to do in her home -- she runs an underground beauty salon.

The two visit their aunt Tia Paula (Chus Lampreave) after dusting off their parents' gravestones in a cemetery. Tia Paula acts as if the sisters' mother never died and is currently taking care of her, but they just think her age has addled her brain.

Tia Paula dies which sends shockwaves through the small family. It comes at the most in opportune time for Raimunda as well. Her husband decided to make sexual advances toward her daughter while she wasn't home, and Paula killed him with a kitchen knife. So now they have to hide the body versus going with Sole to the funeral.

But Sole also gets a surprise. She comes home from the funeral only to hear the ghost of her mother, Irene (Carmen Maura), calling out from the trunk of her car. Irene says she's come back because she has to resolve some issues that she was unable to take care of prior to her death.

Now both sisters have to keep secrets from one another, one of death and one of new life, in order to go about their lives. But somehow they find comfort in aspects of their secrecy.

As a subplot to the sisters lives, yet still intertwined, comes from neighbor Agustina (Blanca Portillo). She's convinced that the ghost of Irene takes care Tia Paula. Agustina needs answers to something that has tortured her since she was young: Whatever happened to her mother who disappeared without a word. She tells the sisters that if they ever see their mother to please ask.

Both schemes that make up the plot to "Volver" are unfathomable, but yet Almodovar made the story lovable. The story is able to work because of so many coincidences. There aren't plot holes that people can rip apart because each gap is sewn up before the movie ends; nice and neat.

Almodovar's movies are a vibrant color palate. In every scene there has to be something colorful. From clothing to regular day items, the colors are beautiful and vibrant. The bright reds and greens add to every scene and make the actresses stand out, seemingly more beautiful than they already are.

Cruz proves she's more than a pretty face. As Raimunda, there's something entirely different from roles in movies like "Sahara," "Vanilla Sky" and "Blow." She's emerged with a new spirit, fiery and strong. She gives off a vivacious attitude that's catchy. Maybe it's because it's a Spanish-speaking movie and her comfort level was higher or the credit could go all to Almodovar.

"Volver" takes the unreal, sometimes depressing, ideas of superstition and death and doesn't take them too seriously. It's real life, but not. However, the emotions are real. From comedic jokes about the gas that the sisters' mother used to pass to the increasing need to hide Paco's body and keep it hidden in order to keep Paula safe.

The movie also addresses everyone's need to settle scores, debts and affairs before it becomes too late. It's not often that a person's able to come back and do such a thing once they've left the world.

Absolutely unreal or not, "Volver" is a story of survival from three generations of strong Spanish women along with their all their quirks and squabbles. Almodovar has shown how rich a person's life can be, despite the bumpy road, past problems and the ever-present doubt.


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