Dir: Pedro Almodovar.Spain. 2006. 111 mins.

The literal Englishtranslation of Volver is "To Return" and Pedro Almodovar's newfilm represents several 'returns' for the iconic director. He returns to hispersonal roots in La Mancha, where he was born. He also returns to his roots asa filmmaker, working mainly with women and, after a long absence, with hisoriginal muse Carmen Maura.

Devoid of the camp ebullienceand colourful subplots one expects from an Almodovar film, Volver neverthelessachieves moments of deep dramatic intensity as a well-observed study of a smallgroup of characters. Although it has more in common with Italian neorealismthan Almodovar's Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, it is stilldestined for international success. Almodovar is a global name and there isnothing more universal than the story of these women on whom he looks with loveand the occasional touch of saturated colour.

After Bad Education, a complex andperhaps misunderstood entry in the Almodovar canon, the director should belooking at a return to the grosses of All About My Mother (2000) and TalkTo Her (2002) with Volver. The former took $59.6m in worldwide grosses including 2.6 million admissions in Spain and $8.3m in North American gross,while the latter took $41.7m worldwide including 1.4m admissions in Spain and$9.3m in North American gross. Bad Education only grossed $34.3m.

Volver is alreadyperforming strongly in Spain ($4.7m from 727,000 admissions after 10 days) andits expected Cannes competition berth should act as a powerful launchpad forits international roll-out. The presence of Maura and Penelope Cruz in the castcan only strengthen the film's prospects.

The title also refers to atango song made famous by Carlos Gardel that has a sentimental place in thehearts of several generations of Spaniards; it is sung in the film by Cruz'scharacter, dubbed by the prodigious flamenco singer Estrella Morente.

The film opens in a cemeterywith a group of women tidying up the tombs of their departed loved ones. Thesetting is a traditional town to which Raimunda (Cruz) returns one day on avisit with her daughter Paula (newcomer Yohana Cobo) to visit her aunt Paula(Chus Lampreave), the woman who raised her in the absence of her mother. Familysecrets are hinted at during the visit but never revealed.

Back in the city Raimundafaces tragedy. Coming home from work one day, she finds her unemployed, drunkhusband stabbed to death by their daughter, acting in self-defence after he hadtried to abuse her. Raimunda hides his corpse in the icebox of the restaurantnext door, which is currently closed for business, then later dumps the bodyand resumes her normal life.

But more secrets hauntRaimunda. One day her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) receives a visit from theirmother Irene (Maura), long thought dead. Sole and Paula try to keep Irenehidden from Raimunda, but are unable to for long.

Almodovar's plot isoccasionally convoluted. He literally needs to brush off the men in the storyto lock himself up with the women, while the thickening of the plot becomessilly in the concealment of Irene.

The director is clearlyinfluenced by neorealism, even quoting Anna Magnani from Bellissima, but thereis also reference to Federico Garcia Lorca's House Of Bernardo Alba with the group ofwomen all dressed in black, living with their pain on closed patios. And thereare also parallels with Almodovar's 1984 classic What Have I Done To DeserveThis' in both the presence of Lampreave and Maura and the similarities to itsbasic premise.

Cruz has never been betterthan in her subtle portrayal of a working mother in despair. Blanca Portillo, astage actress best known in Spain for a role in a popular sitcom, is arevelation as the tragic Agustina. Also memorable is Maura as the ghost-motherwith more than a hint of Almodovar's own mother thrown in.

The film is a paean tomotherhood. These women don't mourn the absence of men, but of their ownmothers.

Production Co
El Deseo

International sales
Focus Features

Warner Bros (Spain)
Sony Pictures Classics (North America)
Pathe Distribution (France/UK)
Tobis Film (Germany)

Esther Garcia

Executive producer
Agustin Almodovar

Pedro Almodovar

Jose Luis Alcaine

Alberto Iglesias

Key cast
Penelope Cruz
Carmen Maura
Chus Lampreave
Lola Duenas
Blanca Portillo
Yohana Cobo