Pedro Almodóvar adores women. In no other film of his is this reverence for the female gender more evident than in Volver (2006). An ode to female resilience, Almodóvar's film explores the inner and outer conflicts of its female protagonists, who are fiercely independent and can lead a fulfilling life without a dose of testosterone. In the oestrogen-laden world of Volver, men occupy very little screen space. It is the womenfolk who are in charge of their lives and even their household. Although the one song (a rendition of the Argentinian tango song "Volver") in the film captures its essence, I can't help but be reminded of Shaggy's "Strength of a Woman", which is an apt tribute to its female cast. Toggling between the city of Madrid and the small town of Alcanfor de las Infantas in La Mancha, Spain, the film tackles many complex themes such as parental sexual abuse, murder, superstition, death, grief, and redemption. But above all, it is a tale of female solidarity, strength, love, kindness and grace.
When Raimunda's (Penelope Cruz) jobless and irresponsible husband Paco (Antonio de la Torre) attempts to rape their 14-year-old daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo), he is stabbed to death by Paula in self-defence. What follows is Raimunda cleaning the blood-drenched kitchen floor and packing off Paco's dead body with Paula's help. Almodóvar establishes the strength of his female characters in this initial scene by displaying their composure and presence of mind in the face of such adversity. In Volver, women don't allow themselves to be disrespected by anyone. Raimunda's mother Irene (Carmen Maura), on learning about her husband's affair with Agustina's (Blanca Portillo) mother, burned down the hut in which they both were having sex. Even Raimunda's sister Sole (Lola Duenas) is portrayed as a strong independent woman who is divorced and sustains herself by running a beauty parlour at home.
The predominant theme running through the film is of female kinship and solidarity. Almodóvar's women have each other's backs and stand by each other through thick and thin. We witness this in the strong sibling bond shared by Raimunda and Sole, who have been each other's support system since their father's death. Even their mother Irene had selflessly taken care of her dementia-stricken sister Paula (Chus Lampreave) until her death, by hiding from the law and community. The acts of kindness and generosity are not just restricted to blood relations. All the female characters are shown to be helpful and supportive in Almodóvar's world. Agustine, a neighbour of Raimunda's Aunt Paula, is entrusted with the responsibility of looking after her. Then, there are a few female friends of Raimunda's who share their meat supply and dessert boxes with her when she has to urgently cook food for a film crew of around 30 people at her restaurant. A prostitute friend even helps her in disposing of the freezer in which Raimunda had locked Paco's dead body.
The inner beauty of these lovely women is further highlighted in acts of forgiveness and redemption. Despite the ghastly intentions of her husband, Raimunda is gracious enough to cremate his body near the river Jucar (a favourite spot of Paco's). She also readily mends her strained relationship with her mother and forgives her for their tumultuous past. Even Irene displays large-heartedness and compassion at her end when she decides to take care of a cancer-stricken Agustine (whose mother was killed by her). Volver can be summarised using the clichéd phrase, "Love conquers all".