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Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver

An ode to resilience in the face of adversity

With Volver, Almodóvar creates his own unique blend of comedy and melodrama with a small but decisive pinch of magic.

Written by


Aug 6, 2023

© Sony Pictures Classics

It follows Raimunda (Penélope Cruz), a working-class woman living in Madrid with her teenage daughter Paula and her sacked husband Paco. In his attempt to rape Paula, she kills him in self-defence, and Raimunda helps her hide the body. As if that were not enough, Raimunda’s supposedly dead mother reappears as a alleged ghost and from then on lives in her sister’s home.

Distinctive for Almodóvar, he also deals here with women who have been abused, abandoned or betrayed by men, society or fate. He paints a picture of a female working class that supports each other as a close-knit community. With humour, warmth and grace, he portrays these steadfast women battling secrets, traumas and ghosts from the past.

© Sony Pictures Classics

“Volver is a reflection of wounds in which pain and pleasure coexist, in which healing and injury are interwoven, in which beauty and horror are inseparable.”

Volver means to return in Spanish, and this is essentially what the film is about, both literally and metaphorically on a variety of levels for the different women. Further, Almodóvar plays repeatedly with the hint of mysticism and superstition—has Raimunda’s mother returned from the dead as a ghost? The film allows for such a natural acceptance of this possibility that we as viewers would readily embrace it. Acceptance and return are recurring motifs. In a way, Almodóvar examines how we deal with trauma and whether we can really come to terms with it or simply accept its consequences.

However extraordinary the events, the film is never really about murder or the mystique of the afterlife. Almodóvar grounds his characters' problems in reality to such an extent that we never believe in the supernatural shenanigans. Even the murder is not the focus for long, being relegated to just another problem in relation to the seriousness of the situation, which embodies the forces that are trying to break them. His characters are survivors who withstand it, who find strength in their weaknesses, who forge inseparable bonds out of love and loyalty. Volver is a reflection of wounds in which pain and pleasure coexist, in which healing and injury are interwoven, in which beauty and horror are inseparable.

Almodóvar creates a view of a world where the impossible seems possible, where even the tragic takes on a comic quality, but above all where the ordinary becomes the extraordinary.

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