Incest, violence, child abandonment and cancer go down mighty agreeably in “Volver,” the latest melodrama from Pedro Almodovar land, where the woes are colossal but the resilience genes stronger still. Clocking in as the 16th feature from the Spanish bad boy-turned-Oscar luminary, whose credits range from “Matador” to “Bad Education,” the movie lacks the zip, depth and wonderfully intricate stories that, collectively, have distinguished nearly all his work. But weak Almodovar is still vibrant cinema.
The story is about terrible deeds, revenge, forgiveness, and, despite its beyond-the-grave element, corporeal, vital life.
Raimunda (Penelope Cruz), a plucky survivor, brings grim secrets, a rotten husband and — following the latter’s sexual assault on her daughter — a corpse to the picture. She disposes of the body and becomes a restaurateur.
Sole (Lola Duenas), Raimunda’s less-glamorous sister, gets a houseguest in the form of the women’s mother (Carmen Maura, returning to Almodovar’s universe), who, everyone knows, died years ago.
Next to Almodovar’s previous films, this one’s flat. Minus the interwrapped stories and outrageous and transgressive factors, it doesn’t deliver enough originality to wow you. Nor is it, deeper down, profoundly affecting.
But it’s still an enjoyable visit with some ladies of Spain who light up their spot in the world.
Atmospherically, Almodovar’s La Mancha (Almodovar’s childhood home) glows. A passage in which women sweep graves marvelously captures its ghost-world mystique.
Among the superb cast, Cruz, who was heartbreaking as the doomed nun in “All About My Mother,” sparkles.
Also warranting mention is Blanca Portillo, who brings a Picassoesque tone, with eyes that appear to have seen everything, to the supporting character Agustina, a selfless, dying neighbor.
Starring Penelope Cruz, Lola Duenas, Carmen Maura and Blanca Portillo
Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar
Rated R, subtitled
Running time 2 hours, 1 minute