I had the opportunity a couple of nights ago to revisit Volver . Susan P of Oscar Watch reportage fame hadn't seen it yet and I thought: but, of course I'll take a second dip. And just...wow. Again.
Everything I thought Pedro Almodóvar was doing right the first time deepened on a second viewing: the intriguing camera work, the surprisingly gentle twists and revelations of its novelistic plot, the sneaky trademark Pedro perversity --I don't want to spoil the plot but if you really stop to consider what's going on and the people you're rooting for...well, it gives you pause. The full earthy performances are outstanding. Cannes gave the women a shared Best Actress award and that was quite the discerning jury decision for there's not a weak link in the big feminine ensemble and they feel so lived-in, these relationships. The cast is even more convincing and entertaining in their evocation of a troubled but loving family full of individual rifts, favoritism and history than the cast of Little Miss Sunshine, and that pretend family got an Oscar nomination for their efforts.
What were the Academy members thinking when they snubbed Volver in so many areas? This is a moving, textured and funny drama. Detractors will tell you that Volver is not on the same level as Pedro's two Oscar winning efforts All About My Mother or Talk To Her and I would agree but in all seriousness, how many films are? This is the same problem Scorsese's Best Picture bid with The Departed is facing. If you're one of the world's greatest filmmakers, people are prone to undervalue whatever your new piece is. It's the ole' "I like your old stuff better than your new stuff" chestnut. Never mind that the old stuff everyone was so fond of was also once new stuff that wasn't as good as the old stuff or was stuff that people didn't "get" at the time. Great filmmakers make films that keep on revealing themselves. They make films that challenge the audience to keep up. They make films that age well.
In the foreign film category, there's no question that Volver deserved a spot in the shortlist. Canada's Water has a lovely humanity to it but Volver has that too and its far more inventive in structure and impressive in its filmmaking. Pan's Labyrinth is hard to beat visually but it's no match for Volver in the emotional complexity department or even in the eventual fusion of parallel stories: both films run on two tracks, though Volver does this in a far less obvious way, finally merging at film's end. The Spanish Oscars (The Goyas) agreed awarding Pan's Labyrinth more statues in total but giving their top prizes to Almodóvar's latest) I'm anxious to see the other three foreign film nominees which are all set to open soon. But if they're all on Volver's level, 2007 will begin stronger than 2006 ended at the movie theater.
Volver's absence from the foreign film list is the most egregious snub the Academy has made in the foreign category in many a year --it should certainly be as disappointing to movielovers as the snubbings of City of God and Wong Kar Wai's masterpiece In the Mood for Love in recent years. Despite Almodóvar's two Oscar wins (foreign film in 1999 for All About My Mother and screenplay in 2002 for Talk To Her) this new snub calls into question previously held notions that the Academy is super fond of him in general. To my knowledge Spain's film industry powers-that-be (who reportedly have a difficult relationship with their most celebrated filmmaker since Luis Buñuel) have only submitted five of his films for Oscar consideration. The chosen ones: Women on the Verge..., High Heels, The Flower of My Secret, All About My Mother and Volver. Only two have made the Oscar shortlist. For comparisons sake, Buñuel himself had three eventual Oscar shortlisters in his lifetime (Tristana, That Obscure Object of Desire, and his winner The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) . Like Pedro he received two Oscar nominations on his own.
As for Penélope Cruz and the Best Actress race, I'll say this: I recently got an email from a reader asking me if he was correct in assuming (based on my own awards) that I preferred Cruz to Helen Mirren's award devouring work in The Queen this year. I assume this question was asked out of sheer disbelief, given the near universal and lavish praise that Mirren has been wearing so well. But my answer was yes. It surprised me too. The Spanish actress knows completely what she's doing in the embodiment of "Raimunda." She accurately and beautifully illuminates the character's particulars: her irritability, her forceful resolve, her quick draw temperament as she rapidly assesses every situation (sometimes too rapidly) and barrels through. In the final act Penélope really proves her mettle. Years of controlled and locked up emotions come flooding back in, completely bewildering her. And then there's that new little girl softness towards films end, that's both touching and a telling actorly touch. People will be loving this performance for years to come.
Back in September, when I was flush with the excitement of seeing Volver for the first time I thought the sky was the limit for its Oscar and box office prospects and I wasn't the only one. Pedro Almodóvar had been building steam with the public and with Oscar voters. I was curious back then at how well Volver would fare financially. Just for updates sake I'll let you know that Volver, closing in on 10 million @ the box office? (and just beginning its expanded post Penélope nomination run) will surpass Talk to Her's total and may even disrupt All About My Mother's top dog status with Pedro inclined ticket-buyers. The public is responding even though the Academy dropped the ball. Good for them.
If you haven't seen Volver yet, run. It's a beauty.
Post-Release Updates: Top Ten List 2006 -It's way up there * The Oscar Best Actress Race factoids, conjecture, and more. And the race for Best Foreign Film
Tags: Pedro Almodovar, movies, Spain, Volver, film, box office, Penelope Cruz, Oscars, Academy Awards