Volver ingeniously opens to the title sequence illustrating a familiar All Souls Day ritual in a rural village in La Mancha, a solemn occasion when families visit the gravesites of their loved ones in a day of caretaking, remembrance, and homecoming, as sisters Sole (Lola Dueñas) and Raimunda (Penélope Cruz), along with Raimunda’s adolescent daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo, who coincidentally appeared in Carlos Saura’s The Seventh Day, a film that also chronicles the repercussions of unraveling buried secrets in a small town), tend to the graves of their parents before paying a visit to their dotty aunt (Chus Lampreave), an ailing elderly woman who continues to live alone in the family home (under the watchful eye of a concerned neighbor named Augustina (Blanca Portillo)), even as the trauma of her beloved sister, Irene’s (Carmen Maura) death has confined her to the memories of an eternal past present. This commemorative ritual that implicitly acknowledges the coexistence of the living with the dead provides an incisive prefiguration to the unforeseen complications befall the sisters after their return from La Mancha, as Raimunda’s unemployed husband (Antonio de la Torre)’s transgressive impulses threaten to wreck their already tenuous relationship, and Sole returns home to find that the ghost of their mother had stowed away in the trunk of her car. Pedro Almodóvar’s incomparable eye for detail and delightfully subversive dark humor suits his recurring paean to the strength, resilience, communality, nurturing, intuitiveness, and ennobled beauty of women especially well, from the neorealist-inspired working class clothing worn by Raimunda that nevertheless, exuded irrepressible sensuality (evoking the wardrobe of iconic actress Sophia Loren), to the image of Anna Magnani made immortal by late night television rebroadcasts, and especially to the metaphoric image of the Manchegan windmills that literally harness the collective energy of the elusive, enduring – and perhaps even a bit maddening – winds that blow across the rural landscape of this enigmatic town of secretive, superstitious, surviving women that visually reinforces the film’s theme of return and eternal cycles.
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