A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this mature, subtitled Spanish film -- which deals with heavy topics like funerals, incest, and murder -- isn't likely to appeal to most kids. Though these issues are framed by wry comedy, they remain complex. There are repeated references to men's abusiveness, and one lascivious father figure's drunken advances lead a teenage girl to stab him to death (this all happens off screen, but she's plainly traumatized as she tearfully describes it). The result is a very bloody kitchen, which is shown from many camera angles. Efforts to hide the body are comedic but also underline the physical and emotional difficulty of the task. A mother returns as a "ghost," leading to discussions of past acts of violence (including a house being burned down). Language includes one "f--k."
What's the story?
Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) and her sister, Sole (Lola Dueñas), mourn their mother, Irene (Carmen Maura), who died years ago in a house fire. The separated Sole is still inclined to romance, while Raimunda -- married to the slovenly, lascivious Paco (Antonio de la Torre) -- is not. Paco soon suffers a bloody end for his abuses, and Raimundo explains his sudden absence as the result of an argument. Her efforts to dispose of the body form a darkly comic, antic little subplot, à la Hitchcock. At the same time, more funerals loom, first when Irene's aged sister Paula (Chus Lampreave) passes on, and again when longtime family friend, Agustina (Blanca Portillo), is hospitalized with cancer. When Agustina tells a story about a spirit who visits her the night Paula dies, the women believe her without question. The ghost turns out to be Irene, returned to make peace with Raimunda. Sole's belief in the ghost makes it acceptable for the rest of us. Irene's reappearance illustrates the extent of the women's community. At ease with one another, they understand limits and pleasure, and how to make the most of both. The women's traumas draw them together even as they create rifts.
Is it any good?
A lush, loving celebration of women's survival, Pedro Almodóvar's VOLVER, as its title suggests, is full of returns, of emotions and bodies, energies and dilemmas -- all of them women's. The most bracing, strange, and provocative aspect of Almodóvar's movie (aside from Cruz's much-remarked-upon magnificence) is its celebration of women's self-understanding.
Yes, men are brutal and slow, and yes, women tolerate them, even love them. But in the end, men are unimportant in the women's patient, purposeful, and proud survival.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's treatment of trauma and reconciliation within families. How is the ghost a metaphor for the way that the past can haunt the present? How does the movie show that mothers and daughters have special bonds (especially in a town where the men tend to die before their wives)? How does Raimunda come to terms with her mother? Do you think the recurring color red is significant? How? The film's title means "return": What various kinds of returns do you see here? How do you think an American-made film might have handled a similar topic? How is this movie similar to and different from Pedro Almodóvar 's other films?
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