Having only seen Cruz in English-language films like “Vanilla Sky” and “All the Pretty Horses,” I concluded that she could not act.  I was wrong.  In her native language, Cruz shines.  She’s sassy, funny and thoroughly engaging, and it’s no wonder that she has become Almodovar’s muse (before this, he cast her in “All About My Mother” and “Live Flesh”).  The other actresses are also very good, with the possible exception of Duenas, who’s a bit dour.

Almodovar tends to linger too long and too frequently on Cruz’s bust, which is annoying.  He also likes to shoot his female characters from behind, wearing tight pants and skirts with high heels, all of which feels voyeuristic.  Those who appreciate less enticing scenery, however, will enjoy the many shots of La Mancha’s modern windmills, which hark back to “Don Quixote.”

The messages behind “Volver” are mixed.  On the one hand, as demonstrated by the title (which means “to return”), Almodóvar echoes American writer Thomas Wolf by insisting that we can, indeed, go home again.  No matter what has happened, no matter how tragic, families need one another.  If we’re willing to forgive, we can all give and receive the love we so desperately need.  This is an important message that encourages both forgiveness and reconciliation.

The problem is that these characters commit some serious crimes, but never face any consequences, save relational alienation.  They aren’t evil; they’re just desperate, Almodóvar seems to be saying.  And in each case, the victims probably “deserved” it.  But although vigilante justice may seem tempting at times, it can never be truly justified.  It’s a skewed view of sin that could easily be misconstrued.

AUDIENCE:  Adults

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Commentary with director Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz
  • Featurette:  “The Making of Volver”
  • Director and Cast Interviews
  • Photo Gallery
  • Trailer

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Characters drink and smoke throughout film.  In one scene, a character talks about smoking pot then smokes a joint in front of a child.
  • Language/Profanity:  A handful of obscenities and profanities, some of which are strong.  Also a scene with scatological humor.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Brief shot of a young girl’s crotch, to indicate abusive interest of father, followed by another brief shot of him staring at her from behind, while she undresses (brief, partial nudity).
  • Violence:  Character describes sexual attack and ensuing murder of perpetrator.  Shot of dead man face-down on floor, laying in a pool of blood.  Body is unceremoniously disposed of.