The Women of Pedro Almodóvar

Daniel Mendelsohn reviews the film Volver, directed by Almodovar, in the New York Review of Books:

20070301volverThe theme of returning to and suggestively recycling old material is at the very core of Almodóvar’s new film, the Academy Award–nominated Volver, as its title reminds us. The Spanish verb volver means not only “to turn” —there is, indeed, a recurrent visual motif here of windmills turning—but “to return” and, with a verbal object, “to do again.” Here, as in Talk to Her, two women are at the center of connected plots; here, as in All About My Mother, the emphasis is on motherhood. Most remarkably there is here a crucial allusion to the groundbreaking Flower of My Secret. For Volver takes as its donnée the plot of the very novel that Leo, in her quest for seriousness, had tried and failed to publish in the earlier film. Exactly like Leo’s novel, The Cold Storage Room, the new movie is about a mother (here called Raimunda), a lower-class cleaning woman, who learns that her deadbeat husband has tried to rape her daughter and, after the husband is murdered, disposes of the body in a freezer in a neighbor’s restaurant.

We eventually learn that these crimes —the incest, the murder, the mother’s willingness to do anything to protect the daughter—are echoes of, “returns” to, earlier crimes committed by Raimunda’s own mother; but this internal return is nowhere near as interesting as the larger one taking place here, which is that of Almodóvar himself once again returning, with delicious self-consciousness, to an old plot—one that sounded hopelessly excessive, too much like his own early work—and reconfiguring it, as he does here even more radically than in his other recent films, in the subtle but provocative manner of his mature style.

More here.  [Photo shows Almodovar and Penelope Cruz on the set of Volver.]