Va Va Voom Volver
Rather than write about Pedro Almodóvar’s new movie, Volver, starring Penélope Cruz, (go see the movie,) or the delights of seeing Penélope lisp her way through pure Cathstilian (go see the movie,) or the depiction of strong, self-sufficient women (go see the movie,) or the contrasts between life in a small village versus the larger urban village (:::tapping out with pencil "go see the movie":::,) what I kept thinking about while viewing this film was how much it reminded me of the Neorealism films from Italy following World War II. Neorealist directors like Rossellini, De Sica, Visconti and Fellini.
There are certain traits that make neorealism film distinct: you will generally see a cast of nonprofessionals with known actors playing against type, shot on location mostly in poor neighborhoods and the countryside showing life among the impoverished performing fairly mundane tasks.
All of these things were present in Volver. At the start of Volver, Cruz, as Raimunda, is scrubbing her parents grave with the other ladies in her childhood village on the assigned day to tidy the cemetery.
Having read in advance that she was wearing a prosthetic butt, and given the director's habit of lingering shots on her swaying ass and cleavage, I was definitely on the lookout for the va va voom factors. I kept thinking about Anna Magnani, and sure enough, later in the film, there is one scene where the mother (ghost or real?) of Raimunda is watching an old film of Visconti's called Bellissima starring Anna Magnani in all of her black slip splendor.
When I would watch these old fims on television as a child, it seemed to me that Magnani spent the bulk of her film career wearing a black slip, particularly in Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo, also starring Burt Lancaster.
Early Sophia (Loren) or Anna or any of the other Italian actresses of that era gave off an earthiness and hair tousled realism that was very appealing to see in an actress, and they weren't afraid of looking bad in the name of art. It can still be seen today in films like Notes on a Scandal with Judi Dench or Kate Winslet's frustrated frump in Little Children.
I'm seeing this film rather late in the day. It has been out a while now. Nonetheless, going to an early in the day screening, weeks after release, and the theatre was still packed. Almodóvar seems to have a deep understanding of women: how they care for each other, the ties that bind, and sacrifices a woman will make to spare her family.
In the past, I had zero interest in Penélope Cruz, I had never seen an Almodóvar film, but Volver has turned me around completely in my thinking about the actress and her director. With themes of family and community, of finding personal strength and a healing that can come even from beyond the grave, there is something in this film for everyone.