October 05, 2006

Volver press conference at the 44th New York Film Festival

Photo by Martin Tsai. Film Society of Lincoln Center program director Richard Peña, Volver director Pedro Almodóvar, star Penélope Cruz and executive producer Agustín Almodóvar at the Walter Reade Theater in New York City on Oct. 4.

By Martin Tsai

When asked how he has changed over the years, Pedro Almodóvar replied: “My hair is more white.”

Truth be told, the Spanish auteur once branded by critics as an enfant terrible has mellowed quite a bit over the years. His staple drag queens, druggies and flamboyant gay men are completely absent in Volver.

Penélope Cruz, who worked with him seven years ago on All About My Mother and recently on Volver, said that “Maybe the thing I found a little different in this shoot was he was giving this feeling of peace to everyone on the set. He was very wistful, so relaxed. I care a lot about him so I was happy to see him so happy during the shoot.”

Almodóvar said Volver is about – among other things – maternity and mortality. The story is about a mother reappearing to her two daughters years after her death. It features a clip of Luchino Visconti’s 1951 Bellissima, and Almodóvar thinks that Anna Magnani from that film embodies “the iconography of housewives and mothers in cinema.” In both films, the mothers feel threatened by their more beautiful daughters. Almodóvar said that he isn’t someone who dreams or thinks a lot about his childhood, and didn’t really use his childhood experiences as subjects of his films until the last three or four years. He started to look at things from his childhood more positively – such as the women who raised him – perhaps due to his increasing awareness of his own mortality.

The filming of Volver took Almodóvar back to his birthplace, Castilla-La Mancha, a place for which he once had much contempt. “It gave me the reconciliation I needed,” he said, “because I didn’t like to think about my childhood.” He said that it was the last place on earth he wanted to live, because it was a region that was very reactionary, extremely conservative, and really quite macho in many ways. According to his eyes as a child, the region was against sensuality.

“ ‘Volver’ is a title with many meanings,” Almodóvar explains. “One of the more important things for me was to come back, to return. It was going back to my roots. It was incredible. It was something that I didn’t expect that I’d feel during the shooting. It was to go back to the same place where I was born, where I lived my first eight years, the place where I saw my mother – not in the same way in the movie – and basically how strong she was. I also come back to work with Carmen Maura. We didn’t work together in the last 18 years. And I also go back to work with Penélope. The last time we were here it was seven years ago. Also you know Volver is the title of the CD by Carlos Gardel. ‘Volver’ means also the passing of time … There are some very powerful meanings with this title.”

© Copyright 2006 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.