Volver is a film that takes me back to the time when I was an eleven year old girl, sitting in my kitchen, watching the latest Spanish teleserye on a miniature cable television set after school. Its familiar archetypal elements such as the evil stepfather, ghost of a grandmother, digging of a grave in the middle of the night, and some sort of a family confession and reunion at the end– these things lead me to forget that I was in some sort of European art film class because everything was so close to my cinematic knowledge.
While Hollywood films usually cast women in roles that could be complementary with men or soapy teenage chick flicks and romantic comedies, this film showcases a mix of natural realities and peculiar ones that middle class women in Spain go through. A close shot on the widows from the beginning of the film showcase the Hispanic culture of females having the responsibility to maintain and polish the tombs of their departed. This emphasizes the societal role of women as domestic. Moreover, it is seen in the film that the women were battling machismo. Sexual abuse was rampant in their very own homes and the female characters exhibited their courage and strength to face these trials. Irene talks about how the women in their family possessed really bad luck with men and they realized that they do not need them because all that matters is that they have each other.
Penélope Cruz, plays a great breadwinner carrying the weight of not just her own household but that of her sisters and cousins. Despite the hundred percent sensuality that she exhumes, given her appearance, the strength of her chacter showcases her defiance to sexuality, given that she gives pertinence to what truly matters which is her family’s everyday survival. Almodovar shows how women can possess both beauty and strength, not only in the exterior but most especially, intrisically.
Raw cultural elements were seen in the film, celebrating Hispanic traditions and close family ties. Moreover, the various characters show their way of evolving not just as women apart from their men but solely, as people in society that play a role in their neighborhood where they have contributions be it in a business perspective or in a relational view.
Initially we see tensions building up between the characters as repressed angst have been going on throughout the years. As time passed in the plot, it is revealed that all of these characters have been yearning for the love that has been kept inside and the audience can give out a contented sigh as there is closure at the end of the film (a pro-mass ending similar to teleseryes that usually do not give ambiguous finalities)
Volver plays uniquely on the relations of these women, showcasing the values instilled within these women as pillars of strength, carrying the family and keeping it together, relaying a positive message that there is light and hope in familial togetherness and individualistic empowerment despite the challenging rein of masculinity in their environment.