If you want to see a sweet film featuring a strong survivor, insight into the ways incest affects families through the generations, a sense of humor, and vibrant faith in the ability to face the pain of the past and heal, then check out Volver, by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar.
Penelope Cruz plays Raimunda, a smart, attractive, and hard working single mother who lives in the city with her pre teen daughter Paula (the utterly convincing Yohana Cobo). Cruz’s character is from a small, claustrophobic town where–apparently–both her parents died in a fire.
The story is set in motion when Paula’s stepfather, Paco, tries to assault her. The girl grabs a knife to defend herself and in the struggle, Paco is killed. When Raimunda finds out what happened, her mother instinct kicks in (although you wonder why she put up with the louse for so long). She reassures Paula and sets out to protect her daughter by disposing of Paco’s body.
where sweetness lies
It isn’t as ghoulish as it sounds, because the focus of the movie is a loving look at the strengths of these and other ordinary Spanish women, their sisters, neighbors and friends. Yes, they lie, they cheat a little here and there, but they are up against a world that would run them over. For all the hardship, there is also deep commitment and the willingness to help each other through life’s travails.
In Spanish, “volver” means to turn—and also to return. There are many turns and returns, from the spinning wind turbines in the background as the characters make the journey from city to small town to city again, to the return of Raimunda’s mother, to the replaying of family themes down through the generations.
There is also a wholly satisfying scene in which Raimunda confronts her mother for not protecting her from incest as a child. It is so very human in the pain, the guilt, the anger, and the capacity to reconnect after long estrangement. If this is an issue for you, you gotta see these women struggle through it.
temporary cynsations home
Cynthia Smith’s wonderful blog on children’s and young adult books has temporarily moved to her husband’s site. You can still read her interviews and insightful comments on the field.
The dynamite interview she did with me about Strong at the Heart is still accessible in her archive.