Sexy village girl Raimunda (Cruz) keeps the food on the table in their small Madrid apartment without much help from her drunken husband (Antonio de Torre) or teenage daughter (Yohana Cobo).

Things go from bad to worse by way of a dead body in the kitchen before the ghost of her dead mother (Carmen Maura) appears to put a few things straight. Well this is a great Spanish film so don’t expect it all to make sense.

If you want to impress your friends remember that Volver means "To Return" and it is pronounced Bollbear.

This is a movie all about women - the few men who do appear, albeit briefly, only do so to demonstrate the strength of their sex drives and weakness of their wills.

The women on the other hand are formidable. All practised survivors in a world largely messed up by their men, they express the harshness of their lives through sardonic humour rather than self pity and just get on with things whether it’s making lunch or disposing of a dead body.

Pedro Almodovar revels in his observations of the female world: the deadly serious precision of food preparation, the terrifyingly regimented fan waving of a crowd of mourning peasant women or the ritualised air kissing which can express any emotion from love to disdain with many subtle variations in between.

He loves women and, almost single handedly these days, makes movies that not only celebrate women but also give them great acting roles.

Penelope Cruz, looking like a modern day Brigitte Bardot or Sophia Loren, is simply brilliant as the beautiful, life toughened Raimunda.

She fills the screen with the charisma of those Hollywood stars of yesteryear whilst portraying a very ordinary but very real human being.

She may never do anything as great as this again so it is a performance not to be missed. Whether it’s shaking that ass, allowing those pouting lips to burst into laughter or letting her fiery eyes well up with tears, she is always the magnetic centre of the film.

There are outstanding performances from the other women too. Lola Duenas plays Raimunda’s plain and gullible sister, Sole, with the wide eyed incredulity of a Harpo Marx and Carmen Maura, a veteran of Almodóvar movies, is both touching and comical as the ghostly mother who may be able to haunt an entire village but who can still get stuck in the boot of her daughter’s car.

Almodóvar is of course a master filmmaker so this is not just a simple story of Spanish women folk, neither is it really a ghost story or even just a comedy. It is about all those big things – life and death, the power of the dead over the living and the pain and suffering that love brings in its wake. Its greatness is in its lightness of touch and its humane understanding of human vulnerability.

It's other great achievement is in the turning of a starlet into a star.

Much like Cruz’s modified figure in the film (Almodovar insisted on her wearing padding on her derriere to give her a more womanly shape) this special features package is jam packed with good stuff. As well as a lively audio commentary from the director and his muse – who has since been nominated for an Academy Award for her performance – there is a revealing documentary about their experiences at the Cannes film festival where Volver won directing and ensemble acting awards.

Also included is a 40 minute round table discussion about the film between Almodovar and his stars, some short one on one interviews, and a behind the scenes montage set to the film’s score.

Verdict

Penelope Cruz will wow everyone everywhere with this career best performance, and not just with the brilliance of her acting.

Rating: 15
Staring: Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo
Directed by: Pedro Almodovar
Extras: Audio commentary, Almodovar documentary (40 mins), Conversation with the director and the cast (38 mins), Interview with the director (10 mins), Interview with Penelope Cruz (5 mins), Interview with actress Carmen Maura (8 mins), Behind the scenes musical montage

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