Here at Cannes, Pedro Almodóvar has a sort of favorite-son status: A European filmmaker with a world-wide fan base, who makes unapologetically arty films that nonetheless deliver solid, pulpy entertainment loaded with sex and death and ideas and concepts. Volver is no exception, and as I write this sitting cross-legged in a press line on Wednesday afternoon, odds are good that either Volver or Iñárritu's Babel will take the festival's top prize, the Palme D'Or, on Saturday night.
Volver is strong by Almodóvar's standards (which means it's very strong indeed): Penélope Cruz plays Raimunda, a wife, mother and sister living in Madrid. Volver opens with Raimunda, her sister Sole (Lola Dueñas) and Raimunda's daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo) cleaning and sprucing up the grave of Raimunda and Sole's mother and father; the two died in a house fire three years ago.
But mom's spirit is still very much about -- not just in Raimunda and Sole's lives and hearts, but also more literally in the life of aunt Augustina (Blanca Portillo). Augustina's mind is slowly failing, and she's convinced that her sister Abuela is still alive. When Raimunda, Sole and Paula return home, however, they have to stop thinking about ghosts -- because Raimunda and Paula have to deal with an actual corpse in their lives.