1.21.2007

Volver

It's strange. My top 4 of 2006, made only in 3 weeks ago, reads:

Brick
Brokeback Mountain
Volver
The Science of Sleep

Why strange? Because it's already shifting. Brick is fading, was already when I made the list, but I do want to see it again soon, re-evaluate it. As for Brokeback Mountain, I was putting together a wishlist for my upcoming birthday the other day, and I realised I don't really feel the need to own it. Oh, don't get me wrong, it's a beatiful, heartbreaking film, and I loved it, but I somehow doubt I'll see something different, discover something new on a second viewing. That, and I'm afraid the sweeping landscapes won't translate well to the small screen.

Numbers 3 and 4, on the other hand, keep climbing. My love for The Science of Sleep should be obvious now from the previous two posts. And Volver (#20 in cinemarati's top of the year), well, snatches of the film come back to me every once in a while, and I can't wait to see it again. In fact, I think it might be my favorite Almodóvar movie (of those I've seen, at least).

I know that, even among Volver lovers, I'm in the minority here. And I'll admit, it's easy to discard the film as nothing but a piece of cotton candy. But I think that Almodóvar finally found the perfect balance between camp and melodrama here.

Most of the time, when camp is used, when films go so over the top as this one does, when everything in a film is bigger (like Penelope's butt) and brighter than life, it tends to be to undercut the drama, rather than underline it. (Melo)drama is unhip and, more importantly, uncomfortable, so irony is used to put some distance between it and us. To make sure the drama doesn't come too close.

There is a scene here that could be interpreted in that way. Raimunda (Penelope's character) sings, and her mother looks at her hidden in a car across the street, crying. Thing is, it's obviously not Penelope who's singing, or if she was it's clearly overdubbed. It's deliberately fake, and it's tempting to think this is meant to be off-putting. I don't think it is though. It reminds us that we are just spectators, certainly, but also that it's not so much the specific story that matters, or the specific relationship, but beauty and feeling in general. I'm not phrasing this well, and it's hard to articulate, but in a way it's pulling the emotion of the song into the abstract, and it's all the stronger for it. Overwhelming, even, at least to me. Everything in this film is, in a way "fake", except the emotions themselves, with the strongest being the love Almodóvar has for life, for his characters, and last but definitely not least, for his actresses.

Of course, it's not the first time Almodóvar has pulled this trick, but it's the first time he's succeeded so perfectly (again, of the movies I've seen). In Todo Sobre Mi Madre, the melodrama takes the upper hand. And well, it works, I remember crying buckets, but in a way it's a little too easy. The loss of a child is always a tragedy, while the loss of a parent is of course very sad as well, but it's less trick of destiny and more of a transitional phase, not luckily a universal experience but one that hits closer to home, less something that happens "just to other people". Hable Con Ella was beautiful and disturbing, but it was a little too much on the earnest side, missing a sense of fun. On the other hand of the spectrum, there is for example La Mala Educación, which I loved, but which missed the sincere emotion present in Volver.

Despite the hyperbole above, I realise defending Volver as Almodóvar's best is probably beyond my writing and analysing skills, but I doubt he's made a warmer film, or one that's more alive. Words like vibrant and luscious have already been used too often too describe it, but it's because it is. It's a film that makes scrubbing a headstone seem life-affirming, a film where a farting ghost seems like the most natural thing. And it's a film I'd love to get for my birthday to watch over and over again.

1 comment:

Lanchka said...

Hey, I can get you Brokeback for like $6 Canadian, which is about 3 euros I think. But it'll be for the US/Canadian DVD region. Let me know.