Thursday, February 01, 2007

Coming Back to Volver

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 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


adam k. said...

Well, re: the snub again, I get that it's hard to say what was in the minds of these voters, whoever they are. But I see no theory nearly as sensible as the one that straight men weren't crazy about the movie. I take people's love for granted cause I'm not that attached to my gender, but I could see how most men just wouldn't love the movie. And in a balanced voting population, that could make the difference.

I just don't see any other explanation. We know they love Pedro when he's writing about men. But do they love movies all about women? Not so much.

Although your mentioning of the "Pedro perversity" is also a bit of a lightbulb, now that I think of it.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS Maybe they just didn't feel right honoring a movie where killing, stealing restaurants, etc. was so embraced?

I remain interested in this because I really think there has to be some explanation for the snub. I want to understand why it hasn't gotten what seemed like a locked-up (and deserved) nomination.

Anonymous said...

There is one likely, perfectly logical explanation: the Academy's frequently appalling taste and egregious blunders.


but how about those GOYA wins. Take that Pan's Labyrinth!

Anonymous said...

I can hold my tongue no more.

There was nothing special about "Volver" at all. Boring, inelegantly acted, revolving around themes Pedro has done to DEATH. Cruz getting a Best Actress nomination for this? Ridiculous.

I say this as a massive Pedro fanboy. "Volver" was, in a year filled with them, the most awful disappointment of 2006. In fact, maybe the most disheartening one of the decade so far.

adam k. said...

Well, I meant a more specific explanation. Yes, they have bad taste in general, but when something's great, and high profile, and has been a frontrunner in precursor races, they generally nominate it. If they don't, then there's generally some specific explanation why.

Nice about the Goya wins, though.

Anonymous said...

One thing I noticed on reviewing were some of the cute little references to Don Quixote (I didn't realize it was set in La Mancha). The tilting at windmills shot was pretty sweet.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your outrage at the Volver snub, and your reservations about Pan's Labyrinth. The emotional depth of each film is strikingly different. I left Pan's oddly unmoved and detached, whereas Volver gets richer with each viewing.

J.D. said...

Well, Nat, think about it.

In 10 years, Almodovar's new movie will be harshly judged in a seemingly unrleated comparison to this. It's a cycle. Every new thing a respected director makes is and always be compared to his older works. But when Volver is realized for the masterpiece that it is, his new things will be compared to this just as much All About My Mother and Talk to Her. So in 10 years, you'll be happy.

Glenn Dunks said...

"inelegantly acted"

What does that even mean? I'm truly curious. I can picture Sharon Stone acting ineligently. Or some other actors that really ACT and could come off as harsh, but the women in Volver? They seem natural and breathy and full of life. ...shame you didn't like it.

It's snub in Foreign Film was particularly disappointing on Oscar morning. It was strange too. Even the man-hating angle that Adam takes doesn't seem to sound right. I mean, isn't this just the sort of the movie they usually nominate? Hmmm.

Penelope deserves the Oscar that this year. The one she's not going to get.

It's sort of annoying that people are all "they're finally acknowledging older actresses", but it's now annoying that there's a young actress that really deserves the prize (Halle didn't, Nicole isn't "young" in the way that the other winners were and, well, Charlize deserved it I suppose) and she doesn't have a chance. Oh well. Such is life.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they want to really hate the gays? No gay directors nominated, no "gay movies" nominated.

Of course, I kid. They don't hate us THAT much, do they?

Now, Water isn't THAT bad - the cinematography alone is worth watching, I just like seeing the greens and the whites in each scene.

Pan's Labyrinth, however, was. I just wanted to slap that little child so much - it ALMOST made me sympathize with the crazed general. Stupid kid - don't eat the freaking dusty grape!!! She can't wait 20 seconds to go back across the barrier and call one of the chefs in those compounds to get her something to eat. GOD.

Five bucks say they'll change the category next year so that it's just "Foreign Language" - not "Foreign Country" film. You know, so that Clint Eastwood and Mel Gibson might want to team up and make a giant "screw you" to Martin Scorsese.

Anonymous said...

I can´t agree with your post.
I do think Volver is really one of Almódovar´s best, on the same level of subtlety and sheer beauty of Talk to Her. The effort is even more remarkable being the characters and plot so common.

Unlike in other Almódovar films the parallel stories are very good integrated in the main story line. The screenplay is simply perfect, all women in the movie are perfectly displayed and developed, and the balance between them is alone a masterwork (screen time, weight in the plot, etc): in which other movie do you have 5 story-driving roles as well written as in this one? I can´t think of many!
The dialogues are very well written, and the comical scapes well dosed.

As for Penélope Cruz her portrayal of Raimunda is easily the best performance of the last years, in any language. The problem is obviously that she is so pretty. Hollywood would probably have expected from an actress playing a low class working mother a transformation à la Charlize Theron; I don´t know US that well, but I can tell you that in Europe even people without money can afford to look good and be clean, it must be the genes (and the good taste).

Her reactions all along the film are incredible; I love two moments: the scene at the hospital with Agustina, refusing to help her, trying at the same time to remain loving, but with a hint of disdain; and the fantastic opening of the last act, running back to see her mother schlepping her daughter the way back to Sole´s flat (Her face and body language in this short scene are a piece of art).
Striking is also her physical work in the scenes with her husband´s corpse.

I love Volver and love Penélope, can´t wait to see more.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Volver was excellent. I have not seen The Queen yet, so cannot compare the performances.

Perhaps Penelope is too pretty, my God, is that now a disadvantage. I think she is radiant in this film and I love the close-ups, the emotion and the funny moments. I love the loud kisses throughout, so lively and evocative.

I have seen Bad Education, and thorougly enjoyed that but Volver is earthier and so real.

All the women were beautiful and I loved the red in every scene,


even the blood. Her cleaning this up was also a real moment and the time it took her to put the body in the freezer.

I want to see it again so I can concentrate more on the film instead of the sub titles.

Anonymous said...

Very good article. You should write more reviews, they're great. And I agree with almost everything you wrote, except for your best actress ballot in FB. Penelope is great, but, really, Kate Winslet in Little Children is far superior.

-cal roth


Macoco -I'm not sure i understand. I obviously love Volver very much.

anyway... when I say not on the same level of Talk To Her I'm in no way saying it's not a freaking fantastic movie. It is. I'm just saying... it's not one of my three favorite Almodovars. At this writing (and this obviously may change) I'd place it 4th or 5th of his films after talk to her, all about my mother and my sentimental favorite (the first i saw) law of desire and on par with women on the verge maybe better than that... but same level.

And he's my favorite living director at this point

Glenn Dunks said...

I think Macaco meant to type "I can't agree more with your post" or something like that. He/She obviously likes the movie.

Talk to Her is only my fourth favourite Almodovar, but I want to watch it again. I have a big soft spot for Live Flesh as, like Law of Desire for you, the very first Almodovar I saw and thought it was brilliant. Then I remembered I had blind-bought All About My Mother for $5 and watched it and it's one of my all-time favourites.

He's probably my #2 living director (after La Lynch)

qta said...

I could not agree more Nat. Volve is an amazing film.

Anonymous said...

I've never really understood the love for Talk to Her, which I think is actually one of the weakest films of his recent production (same goes for Bad Education). I think Law of Desire, ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto!, All About My Mother and now Volver should rank much higher. By the way, I would love to know (just out of cross-cultural curiosity) what your appreciation of humour in Almodóvar's films is. I would have thought a lot of it could only work in a Spanish context, but that doesn't seem to be the case (which I find wonderful).

Emma said...

I adored this film, my 4th of 2006. Penélope was exquisite.

Anonymous said...

I agree - a really superb film, and frankly Cruz deserves the Oscar over Mirren, who could have played THE QUEEN in her sleep.

Anonymous said...

Oppla! Sorry, Nathaniel, know you love the movie... it is just i love it soooo much! Couldn´t stand reading it your fourth in the list... anyway, why do you have to number everything?

Jason Adams said...

Dammit, Nat, now I have to go and see it again. I'd been considering doing so anyway; I liked it okay the first viewing, but for some reason the film's haunted me, more than anything I've seen this year, and I've found myself thinking about it all the time.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the snubs of Osama and Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall...and Spring, even though the latter didn't get attention from critics and audiences until AFTER the fact. You could also put Atanjurat: The Fast Runner in that category of tragic snubs as well.

I don't know if should hate this category or not. Lately, I've liked their individual winners rather than their nominations as a whole. 1999-2001 was a really amazing run. 2003 also produced a very strong and 2002 and 2004 were solid if conventional choices. (I haven't seen Tsotsi.)

Still, that doesn't make up for their un-recognition of gems: City of God, In the Mood For Love, and Volver, plus the three I mentioned, plus House of Flying Daggers. Plus their awful winners like Life is Beautiful.

Does anyone think Volver may have made it in under the old system of voting?

- AdamLuis

SusanP said...

As you know from my enthusiasm after the screening, I couldn't agree with you more. I had been waiting a loooong time to really love a film again.

Not only did it immediately make it to the top of my list for 2006 (if I was listing), but for whatever reason it resonated more for me than any of his other films that I've seen.

One thing I've been thinking about a lot since I've seen it is how the humorous melodrama hit me at a much deeper level than films that tackle serious topics with a sledgehammer approach. (Babel comes to mind, having seen it a couple days prior to Volver.)

Anyway, great film (and thanks for the linkage, Nathaniel).

Anonymous said...

Here's what I'm curious about...are you regretting not ranking Volver as number 1 in your Top 10 of the year? (I personally thought it blew Marie Antoinette out of the water, no contest).


a little bit maybe --they're unquestionably my two favorites though so no biggie.

i always have doubts. ranking art is after all very silly --no matter how addictive the process may be.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was extremely overrated... hated by so many here in Spain... what's wrong with Almodovar's ego I'm proud of him as a Spaniard, but seriously anyone has met him here? I have he is the most arrogant man I've ever met... I was like "hi I admire your work so much, can you give me an autograph"

he is like "of course I won't it is not my job to give autographs, I hate when people ask me that, JODER"

such an arrogant bullshiting mother.#*$&# but I liked the film actually... overrated but I liked him...

Brian Darr said...

I think sending the VIVA PEDRO series to theatres acoss the land in anticipation of Volver might have actually been a miscalculation. I hate to say it out loud because I love theatrical retrospectives and used the opportunity to fill some of my most egregious Almódovar gaps. But Volver had to fight an uphill battle to match the recent memory of seeing some of his greatest masterpieces on the big screen, at least for me. I might have had a better reaction to the film if it had felt like a cool spring in the midst of a Pedro drought.

If the Departed is having trouble living up to Scorsese's prior films, imagine how much greater this effect might be if new prints of Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and the King of Comedy were touring theatres across the country?

Paxton Hernandez said...

Whoa. I agree with Borja Nuñez. Almodovar has become a director-diva, a lot of people would agree on that (as I do).

And let's face it, Volver is minor Almodovar. Great directors sometimes do film minor work.

A little bit off topic, not so much, I've only asked once for an autograph. It was to Todd Solodnz, and he behaved like a real gentleman (unlike Pedro).

Glenn Dunks said...

AdamLuis, don't feel bad about the City of God snub. If it had gotten nominated it wouldn't have been eligible for the four other awards it was nominated for one year later. I'd rather live knowing City of God has four nominations including screenplay, editing, cinematography and BEST DIRECTOR than knowing it simply has a Foreign Language Film nomination.

Anonymous said...

Ummmm... How about the change in the way they vote?

Only 20 people decided who would be the final five. 20. That's it. There are 6000 people in the academy. Less than 1% of them decide this category. So if one or two people find your film overrated, you could easily be out. I have to agree with jason j that I was also pretty disappointed in Volver. The climactic revelation (about Carmen Maura's character) was practically film-destroying. I can't help but think that the majority of Cruz's praise comes from people who haven't seen her do anything good. I enjoyed the rest of the cast (they had an unforced naturalism that Cruz lacked).

But yes - I think Volver suffers when compared to Almdovar's academy triumphs. Talk to Her is so astonishingly beautiful it's practically sensual; the fetishization and evocation of Spanish culture, the glorious Dario Grandinetti (his face is so expressive), the beautiful Alberto Iglesias score. I believe that the final forty minutes of TTH form the finest section of filmmaking this decade has seen. And yes, that's an impossibly high standard to set (so I'll admit that Volver is more disappointing when compared to Almodovar's best works).

And was it Water that "replaced" Volver? I assumed it was Vitus or After the Wedding. I had Water placed in fourth behind Pan's, Lives and Volver.


it wasnt necessarily WATER that replaced Volver but Water and Pans are the only films from the list that have opened in the states up until this weekend hence they were the ones discussed.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful writing, Nathaniel! And I'm seeing this today over at the Landmark, finally! I've never seen an Almodovar in the theatre before.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Vitus didn't get nominated. I'll be firing all my fact checkers now :D