The title of the new Pedro Almodóvar film means “to come back,” and that’s exactly what happens to Irene (Carmen Maura), who died three years ago in a fire, but nevertheless re-enters the lives of her daughters Sole (Lola Dueñas) and Raimunda (Penélope Cruz), shortly after Raimunda finishes disposing of the body of her husband, Paco, who was stabbed to death by Raimunda’s daughter Paula in self-defense. That’s just business as usual in Volver’s small La Manchan village, where women live longer than men and have therefore adopted the habit of digging their own graves, where a fierce wind blows through the winding streets, and where ghosts mingle happily with the living. It’s hardly surprising that such a place should also have spawned a giddy imp like Almódovar, who can mash up unsavory tragedy and high farce like nobody’s business and who rarely approaches any character, alive or dead, with less than enormous compassion. Thus Volver is a return for its maker as well, not just to the region of his birth but (following the malecentric Bad Education) to his favored theme of solidarity among women. It’s also, to my mind, the slightest thing he’s done in years, impeccably crafted of course — with lush, Sirkian compositions and the kind of intensely primal hues that make most other movies seem colorphobic — yet ultimately something of a tiny amuse bouche following the full-course meals that were Bad Education, All About My Mother and Talk to Her. The movie is enjoyable, but not passionately engaging in the way we’ve come to expect from Almodóvar, and it leaves you somewhat cold in spite of the warmth of Cruz’s galvanic performance. Balancing the chaos of her vida loca on her delicately rounded shoulders, holding her crisis-prone family together like some indestructible adhesive, her Raimunda struts undeterred through travails that would send many a woman well past the verge of a nervous breakdown. (ArcLight; Royal)

—Scott Foundas

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