Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave
BY BEATRIZ CABALLERO RODRIGUEZ
From the outset, Pedro Almodóvar’s film Volver (2006) tackles the topics of memory and trauma across three generations of women. As the title Volver (meaning to return, to come back) indicates, this film is marked by a strong sense of disjointed time where the past refuses to stay in the past, ghosts refuse to stay buried, traumatic events refuse to be forgotten. Volver follows the story of Raimunda, who having been victim of her father’s sexual abuse, years later is forced to face a past which she had been making every effort to leave behind. The attempted rape of her daughter and the reappearance of Irene, her dead mother, effectively drive the plot while offering Raimunda the chance to confront her demons.
In addition, we must bear in mind that this is also primarily a ghost story; one in which the ghosts of the past haunt the present and become alive. On the one hand, Raimunda’s mother, Irene, reappears from the dead. But even though the viewer finds out very early on that she is not really a ghost, the spectre of death is constantly looming over the characters: the opening sequence takes place on a cemetery, where we see the main characters cleaning graves (some of them their own); the death of aunt Paula (which kicks off the plot); the murder of two male characters; the long-dragged presence of a body on a refrigerator, and the terminal illness which afflicts the neighbour, Agustina.
At the same time, this is also a tail of healing and reconciliation where several alternatives to judicial justice are explored. The conclusion Almodóvar proposes is inescapable: the consequences of past actions cannot be ignored. Just as in previous films, such as Todo sobre mi madre (1999) and La mala educación (2004), this brings up issues of retribution, justice, redemption, closure, thus inviting the viewer to draw up parallels to Spain’s socio-political context. It is no coincidence that Volver’s production took place during the controversial time when the law of historical memory was being debated in congress, with considerable media coverage. This is one of the reasons why it is possible to read this film as a multi-layered discourse which contains a metaphor for the representation of an intergenerational trauma of social dimensions, that of the problematic memory of Francoism and the Spanish Civil War.
Despite the harshness of the topics discussed, this is also an ultimately uplifting film which revolves around the premise that by remembering a painful past and reintegrating these memories into the present, old wounds will be healed so that a fuller, richer sense of personal and national identity can be rebuild.
VOLVER – Trailer (with English subtitles)
Beatriz Caballero Rodríguez is a senior lecturer at the University of Strathclyde. She is interested in film from the perspective of Spanish Cultural Studies. Her research also includes History of Ideas, Spanish exile, Gender and Trauma Studies.
*Fotografía extraída de www.eldeseo.es. Todos los derechos reservados.