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Borden, D.M. (2008). The Eternal Return of the Archaic Mother in Volver: Somber Farce and Hollywood Weepie. Fort Da, 14(2):142-146.

(2008). Fort Da, 14(2):142-146

The Eternal Return of the Archaic Mother in Volver: Somber Farce and Hollywood Weepie

Reviewed by
Diane M. Borden, Ph.D.

To enter the film Volver is to enter the company of women. To paraphrase the poet W.B. Yeats, one could elaborate further and say, to enter the country of “old” women, of many widows, whose jurisdiction is the care of the dead. The film begins with a leftward tracking shot, paralleled by a fierce left moving wind, which passes women in a cemetery tending the graves of men. Indeed, men, if not already dead, seem marginal in this country of women, best kept buried and perversely sentimentalized in a neocropolis. (A deep-freezer coffin will do just as well.) In the early sequence (or scenes) of Volver, we briefly see Paco, Raimunda's aberrant husband, but only as a pedophile, masturbator, and corpse. Not an encouraging outlook for male representation in the film. Other men appear briefly but are never engaged by Raimunda or the women in her circle.

We ask what kind of space do we enter here? Could it be the realm of the Archaic Mother, where a mythic imperative such as Clytemnestra's Law demands you do everything to protect your child? A place where the oedipal struggle is resolved because never entered, since no men need apply? Almodóvar returns us to the eternal phantasm of the maternal dyad — haunting, seductive, eternally satisfying, yet also disturbing.

I will make a comparison here to the animal kingdom, and I don't make it facetiously. It is useful to draw from female bonding demonstrated in particular animal societies. I think of the matriarchal social order of hyenas, where the hyena mama organizes the hunt, kills and gathers the food, births and cares for the pups, maintains and governs the pack. Male hyenas hang around at the margins, occasionally to mate with the dominant females. To paraphrase Kaja Silverman (1992), a male hyena is always a male subjectivity at the margins. It must be said that hyenas are admirable creatures, often maligned by uninformed prejudices (consider the musical The Lion King). But the women in Volver, like hyenas, have the last laugh.

A kind of silent laughter emerges in the film, a necessary deadpan humor. This combines with a profusion of tears, which structure a formidable motifal system in the narrative.

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