Director: Pedro Almodovar

Spain’s most famous export, two-time Academy Award winner Pedro Almodovar released his finest and most universally accessible work in years with 2006’s Volver. A huge hit at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, the film which translates roughly to “coming back” earned multiple actresses in the cast the Best Actress honor. Although it begins similarly in plot and spirit as the films that have made him a worldwide sensation such as All About My Mother (inspired by All About Eve) and the outlandishly comedic and campy Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown, by dealing with a primary cast of women, Volver feels the most authentically female of any of his features, which will immediately cause female viewers regardless of ethnicity to become engrossed by the recognition in their own daily lives. Penelope Cruz, who received a richly deserved Oscar nomination for her challenging role, is sensational as Raimundo, a hardworking mother of a fourteen-year-old daughter whom she tries to keep away from her lecherous husband. Set in La Mancha, the films feels at once both intensely personal to La Mancha native Almodovar, but also a bit dreamlike and out-of-time as we meet the other women in Raimundo’s family such as her loyal sister Sole, her beloved Aunt Paula, a few friends and a mysterious woman who begins appearing to relatives in the form of her deceased mother Irene. The film which first leads us into a Hitchockian noir plot of murder-in-self-defense and Douglas Sirk inspired melodrama of women sticking by one another despite the consequences, evolves with each passing scene. Running the gamut from bitter sadness in one moment to comedy in another, with the hint of a ghost story thrown in for good measure, sure enough like an expert magician who assures us that the answer was there all along, everything comes together in a beautiful conclusion that wraps up the increasingly complicated plot strands Almodovar dazzled before our eyes like a matador to a bull, daring us to reach prematurely for the answers. Volver is one of those films that moves you not only on an initial viewing but grows even stronger with time as I found myself preoccupied by it for days afterwards—while it’s haunting, sad and true, it’s nonetheless his most authentically women-oriented picture and has quickly become my favorite Almodovar work so far. Perhaps, like David Lynch, a similar director whose films often veer into numerous directions at once and who made this skeptical critic a fan with Mulholland Drive, Pedro Almodovar is getting not only better with age but more willing to reach out to the universal humanity in viewers by calling to attention themes and issues that most of us deal with on a daily basis. Of course, while Lynch is the darker director and one more prone to fantasy, by using fantasy in an even more fleeting capacity, Almodovar enriched what normally could’ve been perceived as a woman’s melodrama into something I consider to be a masterpiece. Note: Although most critics and the Academy Awards have called 2006 the year that Latin American filmmaking hit the mainstream with hits like Babel, Pan’s Labrynth and Children of Men, Volver was sadly denied similar recognition. Make sure you look for it now that it’s been released on DVD!