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Artson, B.F. (2008). Variations on a Theme: a Discussion of Pedro Almodóvar's Volver. Fort Da, 14(2):137-141.

(2008). Fort Da, 14(2):137-141

Variations on a Theme: a Discussion of Pedro Almodóvar's Volver

Reviewed by
Barbara F. Artson, Ph.D.

Often, the themes of psychoanalysis reveal themselves symbolically, perhaps in a dream, the spoken word, or in the very first hour of psychoanalytic treatment. Taking a page from the book of psychoanalysis, I apply this method to the opening scene of Volver, Pedro Almodóvar's 16th film, to flush out the themes and their variations that captivated the director's imagination in this and in so many of his previous productions as well.

Before the film begins, before the titles appear, we hear a background song, played for our ears only, taken from a zarzuela called “La Rosa del Azafran,” or, “The Saffron Rose.” “The Saffron Rose” is a celebration of country life describing a farmer happily throwing his seeds to the wind. Almost simultaneously, the title of the film emerges in bold red lettering, which, we will learn, embodies one of the themes of Volver. The color red, or the inferred color rose, serves to unify those themes upon which I will elaborate. The director then presents a panoramic shot of women — mostly older women — earnestly sweeping, scrubbing, and shining the tombstones of deceased family members, their heads covered by scarves that shield them from the grunge and dirt of the unremitting East wind that all-too-frequently wreaks havoc on this rural community. Almodóvar makes us feel the wind in our hair, the grime in our teeth, as he saturates our retinas with the color red.

The locale is La Mancha — with its associative links to Cervantes's masterpiece, Don Quixote; it is also Almodóvar's birthplace. How, I wonder, did growing up in this region affect young Pedro's imagination, and how did it set the stage for his personal tilting of future filmic windmills?

The Theme of Women and Mothers

The theme of women and their role as mothers is one and the same for Almodóvar. He portrays them with poignancy and sensitivity in Volver and in many other of his films as well. Recall: High Heels in 1991 and All About My Mother in 1999, for example. Women are the caretakers of the universe, the upholders of tradition and ritual (zarzuelas highlight the importance of ritual); they are the source of emotional support and sustenance.

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