Oscar-nominated ‘Volver’ a breakthrough for Cruz
by Hawkins Teague
Jan 31, 2007 | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“Volver”

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Just when I was wondering if anyone at all was reading my column, I received an e-mail from someone who noticed brief plug for Netflix last week. I’m not sure who the anonymous person was, but that person clearly feels strongly about another DVD mail-rental business, Blockbuster Online. He or she said that the service provides three movies at a time and that you can change those movies out at a local store for free movies to watch while waiting next few DVDs to arrive in the mail. They also apparently provide one free coupon to use every month in the store.

For the record, Netflix did not pay me to mention them and it was not my intention to promote a specific business over another. It’s just all very new to me and I am continuously amazed at what technology and innovation have provided movie junkies like me over the years. It’s only been 10 years since DVDs were introduced to the public, and now I can’t imagine living without their crisp picture and sound quality and their widescreen presentation. Will I be saying the same thing about HDDVD or Blu-Ray discs one day? Possibly, although it exhausts me to think of replacing a large number of movies in my collection.

But you’re absolutely right, Anonymous. I shouldn’t be promoting businesses without mentioning their competitors. I do need to strive to be unbiased. So thank you for the input.

Well, I thought about seeing a more mainstream movie last weekend than the types I had been reviewing. However, my weekends always feel so short and I always use this time of year to catch up on movies that are just now coming into wide release. This becomes even more of a priority after Oscar nominations are announced, as they were last Tuesday. I don’t know why, but this year feels particularly crowded compared with the past. Perhaps that explains why I’ve largely felt disappointed at the selections at the multiplexes since last year. It’s certainly nothing new to save some of the best movies for the end, but 2006 was ridiculous.

So I was faced with some hard choices, made even harder since any viewing requires a drive. So I decided to check out Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver,” which earned the lovely Penelope Cruz her first Oscar nomination. I’ve like Cruz for a while, but it is true that she has been incredibly poorly used in most of the English-language films she has starred in. I even loved her in Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky,” a movie almost everyone hated but I’ll still stand by. I can feel that hate mail coming in now.

“Volver” is a different animal from any of her previous work. She plays Raimunda, a woman living in Madrid with her husband, Paco (Antonio de la Torre) and their daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo). When something unexpectedly happens to Paco (you won’t get any more details from me), Raimunda and Paula have to make it on their own.

Meanwhile, Raimunda’s aunt dies and Raimunda’s sister, Sole (a very good Lola Duenas) seems to think that she spoke with their late mother before she died. Several occurrences lead Sole to start thinking that notion isn’t so crazy after all. The audience is left to wonder what is real and what is not. The answers will probably surprise you and you may not even accept them, but “Volver” is nothing if not interesting viewing.

I know I’m being frustratingly vague, but giving away more would spoil the movie’s magic. All you really need to know is that “Volver” is a moving story of bonds between mothers and daughters from three generations. I will warn you, though. Even if you’re open to foreign films, Almodovar is beyond quirky and could probably be considered an acquired taste.

With that said, I don’t think the movie quite measures up to the previous Almodovar movies I’ve seen, which include the 1999 foreign film Oscar winner “All About My Mother,” “Talk to Her,” and “Bad Education.” Cruz’s is definitely worth seeing the movie for, though. I also think it’s impossible to fully appreciate an Almodovar movie on a first viewing because of their multiple layers and their sheer strangeness. I have a feeling that “Volver” will remain in my head for a long while and I reserve the right to amend that three-star rating some day (as I do with any movie – wishy-washy, I know).

On a completely different note, this Friday is Groundhog Day, which gives us all an excuse to watch the 1993 Bill Murray classic, “Groundhog Day” (****). I’m sure it will be on TV somewhere. The movie’s conceit of living the same day over and over again until getting it right has been embraced by people as varied as Orthodox Jews, Zen Buddhists and Christian evangelicals. It’s some of Murray and director Harold Ramis’ best work and it stands the test of time (no pun intended). I used to watch it every Feb. 2 and I intend to reinstate that tradition again this year.
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