More interesting than any TV soap anytime

"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." James Joyce, "The Dead"

Volver ("to return") begins with an establishing scene over the credits unlike any other this year: The tracking camera shows scores of Spanish women scrubbing the graves of their beloved deceased. The tone is happy, almost lyrical, and appropriate to mirror the admixture of living and dead in the story, with the dead seriously influencing the living. Pedro Almodovar flirts with magical realism, as so many prominent Latin artists have done, without compromising his signature love of people and eccentric lives.

Penelope Cruz's Raimunda cleans in Madrid by day; for the rest of the time she tends to the enormous needs of family and friends, many from La Mancha, where she grew up. Her drunken husband is dispatched early to allow Raimunda, her daughter, and the other strong women of the family to deal with the ghost of her mother, which has been seen haunting their home. Actually few men intrude into this gynecentric world where telenovelas play a part of their life, which happens to be far more interesting than any TV soap anytime.

The writer/director has not only successfully visited his past, but he has also made almost poetic the return of anyone, living or dead, to make amends and renew a love once strong but now compromised by all the mistakes of an imperfect life.