I finally saw Almodovar's latest film Volver yesterday, and while I liked it and am glad I saw it, I didn't find it one of his best or as good as his three most recent films, such as Talk to Her and All About My Mother. As visually stunning as those films, Volver didn't hit me on a gut level as even Bad Education did. The story, of a group of women whose difficult and tragic lives are intertwined, and who, in the absence of men or presence of bad ones, help one another survive, struck me as a very idealized view of women that felt contrived.
The story begins with an extremely campy view of women cleaning tombstones in a graveyard. Our heroine, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz), worries about her elderly aunt, who has become senile. Raimunda's sister, Sole (Lola Duenas), fears a ghost lives with Tia Paula. When the sisters leave the small Spanish town to return to their homes, Sole in Madrid and Raimunda outside Madrid, the aunt's troubles fade into the background as Raimunda has much larger fish to fry: the death of her husband. Raimunda tackles all the obstacles in her path in charming get-ups of red skirts and cleavage-bearing purple sweaters. Almodovar very lovingly photographs Cruz. We linger on the gold religious medallions hanging between her breasts, on her breasts, her eyeliner, her perfect profile, her tousled hair. I have never seen such a beautiful actress. Sofia Loren times ten. The friend with whom I saw the movie complained that Cruz did not find her acting rhythm until thirty minutes into the film. I was so focused on her gorgeousness I did not even notice.
As usual, Almodovar's visual world stunned me, and I was happy to be a part of it, as no one does color better than he does. But the movie bored me by the end, and several elements did not add up. One of the coterie of women is Raimunda's opposite: shaved head where she has luscious black locks, no makeup where Raimunda's eyes are kohl-rimmed, cardigans versus bustiers. But I could not figure out what this foil was supposed to represent.
I saw Bad Education in the Floridablanca theater in Barcelona before I spoke Spanish. Without subtitles, I could not grasp the whole plot. Still, because Almodovar's language is visceral and visual, I got it. It moved me. Strangely, Volver, though I could comprehend it all, stirred me less.