I have to say, it’s not often I go to the cinema and see a film where I haven’t heard the first thing about what I’m going to see and thus I don’t know what to expect. In this case I was persuaded to avoid the usual Hollywood Christmas cinematic spew-slew by a good friend, the San Francisco filmmaker and writer Kirk Mustard. I remembered the last time I saw a film I had no forewarning about. I went to see “Thelma And Louise” in 1991 expecting to see a light, frothy comedy starring one of my fave older film fetish females, Susan Sarandon…and came out ashen and ashamed of having a penis. Which happened again with “Volver” (which means in English, literally, “The Return”) to a degree.
Thanks Kirk. Much unappreciated. You’re never getting to pick a movie again!
“Volver” is the latest film from wacky Spanish homosexual filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. I have seen a couple of his ever-in-rebellion-against-the-Catholic-church previous productions – recall being quite impressed by the estrogenerated melodrama “About My Mother” a few years back, but was turned off by and turned off “Bad Education” last year on DVD, partly because of its disturbing pederasty tone (definitely one to have a few Jesus Juices watching, especially if you’re a Catholic priest) and partly because it was, well, boring crap. “Volver” mixes Almodovar previous-effort adjectives to be both melodramatic and somewhat crap. It has apparently won a load of awards at Cannes, the Golden Globes and the European Film Awards in 2006, but this is just another reason why I don’t trust the backslapping-praise-from-backstabbing-peers old boy’s clubs that comprise the film festival circuit – after all, you’re hardly likely to book a film from a famous director or insult their work if you’re going to meet them, are you? No. That’s what I’m here for, and you don’t even have to leave the house. Isn’t life great?
“Volver” concerns the Spanish lives of harassed mother Raimunda (Penelope Cruz), her mid-teenage daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo) and the shiftless man of the house, Paco (Antonio De La Torre). Paco has just been fired from his job and lies around the house drinking beer, watching soccer and leeringly peering up his teenage daughter’s skirt, and letching over her fetching frame when he inadvertently sees her topless. Raimunda returns home from work one day to find that her frustrated drunk spouse is lying dead on the kitchen floor with a knife in his belly, having been fatally penetrated when trying to drunkenly penetrate a terrified and horrified Paula. Paco’s would-be-incestuous corpse is dumped in the freezer of a nearby restaurant for sale, whose keys have been entrusted to Raimunda who used to work there. Through a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances, Raimunda takes to catering for a film crew in town shooting, and the restaurant starts taking off.
Meanwhile, through another bizarre and convoluted set of circumstances, in a story running concurrent to the one involving Raimunda, her sister Sole (Lola Duanas) is visited by the ‘ghost’ of the sisters’ mother (Carmen Maura) who supposedly died in a fire in the arms of her husband many years before, and whose unexpected ‘return’ is that of the film’s title (which also indicates the cyclical nature of events in the running time). When she tells the tall tale of what happened to her husband and another woman and herself, you can see that the current events in Raimunda’s life and her mother’s past ‘neatly’ dovetail into twin vengeful scenarios that leave you in no doubt about Almodovar’s heavy-handed contempt for straight males, logic, plotting, and, hell, throw in believability just for good measure.
This film starts out okay, with the mildly engaging tale of the murder of Paco. You wonder how the two frightened females are going to get out of the horrible situation they are in. Then the film shoots off on a tangent involving Sole, a friend of theirs with cancer, a trash TV host and the mother’s ridiculous back-story; pure soap opera. By the time it gets back to Raimunda and Paula and their never-too-heavy plight you’ve all but forgotten about them, and really couldn’t care much either. So okay, Almodovar wants female murderous vengeance against scumbag molesting males to go unpunished, and this may or may not happen (not going to tell you in case you want to see the movie) – twice. Deep stuff indeed. After 30 minutes or so the film really started dragging to the point that, when it finished, Kirk asked me if it “wasn’t three or four hours? Sure seemed like it.” I would have to agree. Only so much poorly staged foreign kicking in the breeder-balls you can take before you long for the exit.
Actually, speaking as a reviled straight male, I would say that the only true saving grace about this film is Penelope Cruz’s performance. I have never seen this woman in a movie before – just knew she had gone out with Wee Tam Cruise, and pegged her as a Hollywood airhead who appears on red carpets here and there. But I must admit, Cruz’s Cruise cruise aside.I was totally enamored of her in this movie. Her heaving Spanish bosom is pertly and distractingly displayed throughout the running time (replete with aerial down-the-top shots – odd for a gay director – maybe Almodovar’s turning bi or something) and I couldn’t stop staring at it. Yes, I’m sleazy, I know, but there wasn’t much else going on in the film and I thought, breasts aside, that this gorgeous liquid-brown-eyed woman gave a great performance too. Actually, all the performers in the movie were great, so singling Cruz out really would do them a disservice. But she’s the star pulling power behind this chick flick, and Sony Pictures Classics know it too, plastering her ethereal features all over the poster and promotional materials. Annoyed straight women, arty straight guys and lesbians (maybe wanting to see a chick-on-chick flick) – they certainly know their audience.
Which is ultimately all well and good but, you know, Almodovar, please don’t ask me to buy into super-convoluted semi-gothic melodrama whose ‘revelations’ actually make myself and my cinemagoer companion laugh out loud with their over-the-top ridiculousness. Get back to the punks and junkies and drunks and sadists and masochists and nuns and priests and Catholic-hating-and-baiting John Waters-like chaos of your earlier wild efforts and leave the schlock soap opera crap for the British Royal family or American media stars. They do it way better, and way more hilariously and insanely. Just ask Prince Char(m)les(s) or Carmella Porker-Bowels or Mad Max Gibson or Parasite Hilton or Lindsay Firecrotch Hohan. Think you can compete on that level? You’re a rank amateur! Your kitsch-and-think satire has been superseded by the madness of the world’s unelected Technicolor red-carpet-pounder crazy aristocracy. Real-life friction is stranger than Spanish fiction – and always will be. There’s no time to lose! Phone up c-section-scar-and-gash-flashing trailer-trash Bratney Spears right now for your next epic!
You know it makes nonsense.