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Film / Volver

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Volver is a 2006 film by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar starring Penélope Cruz and Carmen Maura (the names are significant if you are at all aware of Spanish film for the past 30 years, or their relationship with Almodovar). Cruz plays Raimunda, a thirtysomething living in Madrid. She and her sister Sole (short for Soledad, "loneliness") return to the village of their birth in La Mancha for their aunt's funeral. There are rumors that the ghost of the two sisters' mother, Irene (Maura), who died in a house fire alongside their father, haunts the village; a local woman, Agustina, claims she saw her with the aunt. Sole encounters Irene's ghost, who hides away in the trunk of her car. The ghost stays with her daughter, posing as an illegal immigrant working for Sole's salon.

For Raimunda, however, a crisis occurs when her husband, Paco, attempts to rape their daughter, Paula, and she kills him in self-defense. This sets in motion a chain of events that involves prostitutes disposing of the body, Raimunda acquiring a restaurant, and Irene trying to find a way to resolve all the family issues she couldn't work through before her death.

The title, for those who do not speak Spanish, means "to return [to a place]."

This film provides examples of:

  • All Men Are Perverts: When they are not outright rapist monsters, they're at least ogling at (married) Raimunda.
  • Asshole Victim: Paco had his death coming. As did Irene's husband.
  • Bad Liar: Sole is such a terrible liar it's amazing she manages to bluff her way through the movie as long as she does.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Raimunda has taken a new business - a restaurant - after years of low-paid jobs and has reconciled with her mother, but the police may one day question about her husband's disappeareance and she has promised her daughter to tell her about their father one day, even if it's an Awful Truth. Also Agustina is doomed to die of cancer.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Aunt Paula's importance in the story becomes more obvious after she dies.
  • Due to the Dead: An interesting case. Raimunda has to get rid of her murdered husband's corpse, and choose the forest near her hometown not only because it's out of the way, but also because it was his favourite place.
  • Fanservice:
  • Fauxreigner: Irene passes herself for Sole's Russian help to justify her presence.
  • Foreshadowing: Quite a lot, which is more obvious when you rewatch the movie.
    • Aunt Paula, despite her utterly senile status, is quite healthy and she owes it to her deceased sister, according to her. She is right. Irene is alive and has taken care of her all these years.
    • Paula is twice remarked by other characters to have the same eyes of her grandfather, a seemingly irrelevant comment. Such resemblance is product of Parental Incest.
  • Genre Shift: The film manages to cover several very different areas of moviemaking like dark comedy, road movie, family drama and satire (the TV show where Agustina appears). Oh, and did we mention that it ends with the chilling reveal that young Paula is the result of incest?
  • Guile Hero: Raimunda manages to do lots of things (such as talking her neighbours into provide her things she need, obtaining the restaurant from Emilio, successfully covering the murder of Paco) just lying and arguing her way out of troubles.
  • History Repeats: A tragic variant. Raimunda was raped in her teens by her father, resulting in Paula's birth. Paula is sexually assaulted by Raimunda's husband, but this time she accidentally kills him.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Raimunda's hooker neighbour who helps her burying Paco's corpse.
  • Improbably Female Cast: This is a family drama all centred in mother-daughter relationships, so it's kind of given.
  • Mama Bear:
    • Raimunda - when she discovers Paco's dead body and Paula confesses she killed him, she immediately decides to take the blame and deal with the problem herself.
    • Irene burnt her husband's house to the ground with him and his lover inside it when she found out what he did to Raimunda.
  • Motifs: Wind turbines, standing in for windmills.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Agustina, in the spirit of her hippie mother.
  • Parental Incest: Paco's attempted rape of Paula, resulting in his death. Raimunda herself was raped by her father years ago, resulting in the birth of Paula and his eventual murder.
  • Phoneaholic Teenager: Paula's almost always on her phone at the beginning of the movie.
  • Recurring Camera Shot: Some of the most iconic shots are the Penélope Cruz boob shots. The first is at the start of the film, and she is cleaning off a kitchen knife in the sink. The next time, she's cleaning the knife again but now of her husband's blood after her daughter killed him.
  • Redemption Quest: Irene, who eventually reveals to Raimunda she came to apologise for not spotting and stopping the abuse she suffered by her father.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: It's revealed that when Irene learned what her husband did, she went into a murderous rampage setting fire to the hut where he was sleeping with his lover.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Irene has been alive all along, hiding out with her sister.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Almodovar explained this was the problem of teenage Raimunda:
    Pedro Almodovar: So she had been a very attractive child, and the mother had tried to make her even more beautiful for the talent audition. And the mother, without realising it, was creating an irresistible temptation for the father, and he fell into temptation.
  • Soap Opera Disease: Agustina's cancer. Apparently, they could cure it in Houston, but she can't afford to go. The talk show offers to pay for it if she'll reveal the family's Dark Secret, but she decides not to.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Wind and windmills in a small town in La Mancha
    • Irene at some point watches an Italian Neo-realist film with Anna Magnani. Anna Magnani's strong motherly characters were the inspiration behind Raimunda's character.
  • They're Called "Personal Issues" for a Reason: Agustina has this attitude about her mother's disappearance.
  • Together in Death: Raimunda states this was the fate her mother wished and had. Turns out it was his lover who died with him.
  • Uncanny Village: Seems that in the town not only Men Are the Expendable Gender, but also there are some dark secrets too. One newscaster casually mentions that it is the village with the highest rate of insanity.
  • Unfinished Business: Agustina says this is the reason that Irene is staying around the village. Subverted because she's still alive.
  • Untranslated Title