By robbiefreeling | REVERSEBLOG: the reverse shot blog June 29, 2006 at 9:46AM
Pedro Almodóvar's Volver will hit U.S. screens later this year on the crest of a wave of good will—what else is new? Every Cannes plaudit and Variety huzzah only reinforces Almodóvar's seeming dominance over foreign-film import. Once considered "spicy" and "outré," Almodóvar's films segued into somethiing more controlled, elegant, and accessible at the turn of the millennium with the lovely All About My Mother, though all of the baubles and fetishes were still firmly in place. HIs follow up, Talk to Her, was for me possibly his greatest film, an aesthetic and aural immersion into the psychoses played for laughs and shocks in his earlier films, now revealed as consequential. Talk to Her's focus on male grief and loneliness seemed a stunning departure; but this was only enhanced with the gay noir Bad Education, which emerged as one of the director's great conceptual sleights of hand, yet was somewhat done in by expectation: so utterly unified had Almodóvar's cinematography and music (Alberto Iglesias's scores have perhaps helped to usher in this new era of Almodóvar) become that we could only accept a masterpiece and nothing less. That Bad Education peaked halfway through, with its loopy constructed narratives within flashbacks, only to suffocate somewhat in a limp third act, perhaps helped in bringing Almodóvar down off of his pedestal. Long enough, at least, to enjoy Volver as the low-key pleasure that it is. Devoid of the previous three films' grandiose gestures, Volver moves along at a surprisingly leisurely clip—though if this same script had been made earlier in his career, it might have easily been played through with more full-throttle pizzazz. After all, this is a script prominently featuring wisecracking ghosts and bloody murder. Seemingly gone are the days when Almodóvar would end his films with a man embracing his dead tighty-whitied lover while the apartment erupts in flames around them (go and find the dazzling and very hot Law of Desire): here, he opts for a gradual, contemplative fade-out of an elderly woman mounting a staircase. Wonderfully accomplished, yet perhaps more conceptually sound than dramatically satisfying, Volver furthers its director's efforts to create universes in which strong, diverse communities of women can converge and create empathetic, nurturing utopias. It's admirable and touching, but perhaps a little long on exposition and a tad too pat narratively. Nevertheless, Volver will certainly invite a second viewing, as in my experience, all of Almodóvar's films only become more emotionally vibrant the more I see them.