Spanish director Pedro AlmodÃ³var has been making films since 1974. Starting out with edgy and often controversial projects, he became the face of a liberated post-Franco gay Spain. Launching the career of Antonia Banderas in his earlier films, AlmodÃ³var himself came to the attention of Hollywood and the world with his 1987 classic Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios) – eventually leading to a 1999 Best Foreign Film Oscar for All About my Mother (Todo sobre mi madre). Increasingly obsessed with female characters, his films became less about gay stories and less explicit but increasingly masterful. While 2004’s Bad Education (La Mala educaciÃ³n) saw him focus on gay themes, his newest film Volver sees AlmodÃ³var return to his favourite subject matter.
Starring Penelope Cruz, Volver is set in contemporary Madrid and tells the complex story of Raimunda – a young, hard working and very attractive mother with an unemployed husband and a daughter in mid-adolescence. Her life is turned upside down when she must return to her home village in La Mancha (where AlmodÃ³var himself was born) for her aunt’s funeral, while grappling with her daughter, her sister and the her mother’s ghost. Volver has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Cruz and has won multiple other awards.
In a revealing monologue, Pedro AlmodÃ³var talks about the making of Volver.
“The most difficult thing about Volver has been writing its synopsis. My films are becoming more and more difficult to relate and summarize in a few lines. Fortunately, this difficulty has not been reflected in the work of the actors, or of the rest of the crew. The shooting of Volver went like clockwork.
I guess I enjoyed it more because the last shoot (Bad Education) was absolute hell. I had forgotten what it was like to shoot without constantly feeling as though I was on the edge of the abyss. This doesn’t mean that Volver is better than my last film (in fact, I’m very proud of having made Bad Education) just that this time, I suffered less. In fact, I didn’t suffer at all.
In any case, Bad Education confirmed something essential for me (which I had already discovered on Matador and Live Flesh): you can never throw in the towel. Even if you’re convinced that your work is a disaster, you have to keep fighting for every shot, every take, every look, every silence, every tear. You mustn’t lose a drop of enthusiasm even if you’re in despair. The passing of time gives you another perspective and sometimes, things weren’t as bad as you once thought.”
“Volver (meaning ‘coming back’) is a title that includes several kinds of ‘coming back’ for me. I have come back, a bit more, to comedy. I have come back to the world of women, to La Mancha (this is undoubtedly my most strictly Manchegan film, the language, the customs, the patios, the sobriety of the facades, the streets paved with cobblestones).
I have come back to motherhood, as the origin of life and of fiction. And naturally, I have come back to my mother. To come back to La Mancha is always to come back to the maternal bosom.
While writing the screenplay and during the shoot, my mother was always present and very close. I don’t know if the film is good (it’s not for me to say), but I’m sure that it did me a lot of good to make it.
I have the impression, and I hope it’s not a fleeting feeling, that I have managed to slot in a piece of the puzzle (the misalignment of which has caused me a lot of pain and anxiety throughout my life, I would even say that in recent years it had damaged my existence, and taken on far too great a significance).
The piece of the puzzle that I am talking about is “death”, not just my own and that of my loved ones but the merciless disappearance of everything that lives. I have never accepted or understood it. And that puts you in a distressing situation when faced with the increasingly rapid passage of time.
The most important thing that comes back in Volver is the ghost of a mother who appears to her daughters. In my village those things happen (I grew up hearing stories of apparitions), yet I don’t believe in apparitions.
I have the impression that, through this film, I have gone through a necessary period of mourning, a painless mourning (like that of the character of Agustina the neighbour). I have filled a vacuum, I have said goodbye to something (my youth?) I hadn’t yet said goodbye to and needed to, I don’t know. There is nothing paranormal in all this. My mother hasn’t appeared to me, although, as I said, I felt her presence closer than ever.
Volver is a tribute to the social rituals practiced by the people of my village with regard to death and the dead. The dead never die. I have always admired and envied the naturalness with which my neighbours speak of the dead, cultivate their memory and tend their graves constantly. Like the character of Agustina in the film, many of them look after their own graves for years, while they are alive. I have the optimistic feeling that I have been impregnated with all that and that some of it has stayed with me. I never accepted death, I’ve never understood it (I’ve said that already). For the first time, I think I can look at it without fear, although I continue to neither understand nor accept it. I’m starting to get the idea that it exists.
Despite being a non-believer, I’ve tried to bring the character (of Carmen Maura) from the other world. And I’ve made her talk about heaven, hell and purgatory. And, I’m not the first one to discover this, the other world is here. The other world is this one. Hell, Heaven, Purgatory, they are us, they are inside us – Sartre put it better than I.”
Genre and Tone
“I suppose that Volver is a dramatic comedy. It has funny sequences and dramatic sequences. Its tone imitates “real life” but it isn’t a portrayal of local customs. Rather it has a surreal naturalism, if that were possible. I’ve always mixed genres and I still do. For me, it comes naturally.
The fact of including a ghost in the plot is a basically comic element, particularly if you treat it in a realistic way. All of Sole’s attempts to hide the ghost from her sister, or the way she introduces her to her clients, give rise to very comic scenes. Although what happens in Raimunda’s house (the death of the husband) is terrible, the way she struggles to keep anyone from finding out and the way she tries to get rid of him also create comic situations.
Mixing genres comes naturally to me but that doesn’t mean it’s free of risk (the grotesque and the grand guignol are always a threat). When you move between genres and go from one tone to its opposite in a matter of seconds, the best thing is to adopt a naturalistic style that manages to make the most ludicrous situation plausible. The only weapon you have, apart from a realistic setting, are the actors – the actresses, in this case. Luckily for me, they all exist in a constant state of grace. And they really put on a show in Volver.
“Volver is a film about family, made with family. My own sisters were the advisers on what happened both in La Mancha and inside the houses in Madrid (the hair salon, the meals, cleaning materials, etc.)
Although they were luckier, my family, like that of Sole and Raimunda, is a migrant family which came from a village to the big city in search of prosperity. Fortunately my sisters have continued to