Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: Volver (2006)

The Birthday Series always seems like such a great idea when you take it on. 34 films, spread over a couple of months spanning the highbrow and the low, covering almost every genre and usually containing a great mix of films that I’ve been meaning to rewatch, haven’t seen or at least can be interesting about. However, a moment of introspection tells a different story, as they almost always have periods that contain hideous film after hideous film, runs that drain the soul and leave the humble reviewer a shaking wreck on the floor. When you couple it with that certain dates appear to be the release time of choice for certain types of films, then what you have is a series that can, potentially, claim to be the most difficult any of us take on. This is my second run through the Birthday Series, and this time I’ve been forced to take on a lot of second and third choice films from the original attempt. So, it’s time for Almodovar number 2 on my list, 2006’s Volver (release date August 25th).

They’re warming up for some serious talking

This list is dramatically more highbrow than my first foray through the Birthday Series, featuring 4 films by Spanish National Treasure Pedro Almodovar. I’ve seen almost all of the elderly filth merchant’s output, and remain nonplussed as to why he’s such a critical darling. For the most part, they either disgust me or else they bore me, but in a few unfortunate efforts they manage to do both. Ebert said about Volver that Almodovar is “a director that loves women”, and I respectfully disagree. He doesn’t, he loves freaks. Still, with almost every Almodovar film I’ve seen there’s usually plenty of high-quality nudity to distract me from proceedings and relieve the terminal boredom/ quell the rising tide of nausea.

After about the fourth of fifth shot like this, Mrs. Jarv started making snarky comments.

This time around, Penelope Cruz had returned from making terrible American movies to the less than welcoming embrace of Pedro. Pedro, clearly, had in mind to teach her a lesson about buggering off to America and forgetting her roots:

 ‘The role is about her humanity, her heart as well as her face. Pretty girls don’t usually get such parts. In America, they don’t know how to use actresses. I saved her from Hollywood.’

I think he’s being somewhat duplicitous about this, because the old queen never had the slightest qualms in getting Cruz naked for his films. However, he’s upset about something: her time in Hollywood has made her too thin. Pedro’s solution? Yup, that’ll be a prosthetic arse. Quite how fitting one of the world’s most gorgeous women with an artificial rear end is saving her from Hollywood is open to interpretation. Myself, I think it isn’t. I think it’s a reminder to her that she is, first and foremost, a Spanish actress and not an American starlet.

This is a fucking chick flick.

Anyway, digressions about Cruz’s prosthetic behind aside, this is the film: Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) and Sole (Lola Dueñas) are sisters from a town in La Mancha. On returning for a funeral, their next door neighbour tells them that she heard their aunt talking to their long dead mother. This is impossible, as both their parents died in a fire years before the film starts. No sooner have they returned to Madrid, than Sole finds their mother Irene’s ghost (Carmen Maura) has hitched a ride back. In the meantime, Raimunda’s daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo), has attracted the unwelcome attention of her father, and kills him defending herself. The rest of the film follows the events from the fall out of this death and the return (Volver is literally translated as Return) of their mother. Secrets are revealed, women do a lot of talking and I practically pass out from the sheer unadulterated boredom. There’s only one piece of nudity and it’s Cobo’s which is minging because she’s 12 or something. What the fuck Pedro?

I wish I’d been drinking when I watched this.

This is an excruciating film. To say it’s boring doesn’t even begin to get to the bottom of it. Christ knows what I was thinking when I gave it a pass last time. As with other Almodovar’s this is, again, a glorified telenovella, we’ve got hidden incest, sister/ mothers, crimes of passion, and so forth, but what we really have is a lot of women talking. Talking and talking and talking about frankly boring, weird and irrelevant subjects. I thought the film was going to briefly spring in to life when they dispose of the body, but nope, nothing happened then either. I think of all the Almodovar films that I’ve ever seen this is him at his most restrained and therefore least interesting. He talks about Volver being about the juxtaposition of sex and death, but that really isn’t the case, because there’s naff all sex. What there is, I suppose, is a lot of analysis of relationships, and when the central conspiracy is laid bare, it is a humdinger, and would have made me sit up had I not lost the will to live about 20 minutes before it.

“That’s not a knife”

The award-winning acting here is, I suppose, good. It’s hard to tell when you honestly don’t care about anything that’s happening on screen. Cruz is luminous in Spanish films, so far better than she ever is in anything in English, and it’s easy to see why she thought she’d make it in America. Maura, reconciled with Almodovar after a 20 year moody, is good as Irene, but the absurdity of her situation taints the performance, and she’s got some difficult and frankly bizarre speeches towards the, for wont of a better expression, climax of the film that she has a good stab at. Dueñas is probably the best of the leads, but all in all it’s pretty easy to see why these actresses all picked up awards for this- it’s pure critic bait.

I would honestly rather listen to them talk than Cruz sing flamenco. I hate flamenco.

Volver is also a pretty film. The Spanish landscape looks sumptuous, and the camera lovingly lingers over Cruz’s cleavage enough times to make me think that Pedro may be on to something here, but at the end of the day it feels soulless, it doesn’t feel like he’s got a connection to the material. This is, frankly, surprising, as Vovler is very much him working through the issues that arose with his mother’s death, but the film is warm, yet strangely sterile. He’s at his most restrained, as noted above, and so it feels like he hasn’t thrown himself into it the way he normally would.

They’re watching telly here. Yes, you guessed it, a talk show.

Overall, this is a crap film, and I really don’t recommend it. To say I was bored is an understatement, and I bloody resent the time it took to sit through. I’m not cut out for soap operas, and, if you remove the parade of grotesques that usually appear in Almodovar films, I don’t think he is either. If I had rewatched this before The Skin I Live In then I would have docked the later points, because watching Volver it became apparent that if he hasn’t got a twisted narrative and flashily repellent characters then he’s got nothing else. Almodovar needs to hide in the shadows of society with his freakshow, because when exposed to the light what remains is singularly empty and uninteresting. I give Volver a deeply disappointed 1 prosthetic arse out of 4.

In fact, now I think about it, Cruz’s prosthetic arse is a great metaphor for this film- looks great, but at the end of the day, it’s totally artificial and becomes boring very quickly.

This is not, frankly, making me look forward to the other 2 on the list.

Until next time,


The Full List for the Birthday Series Redux:

  • 2011- The Skin I Live In (2.5 out of 4)
  • 2010- The Last Exorcism (2.5 out of 4)
  • 2009- Post Grad (1 out of 4)
  • 2008- The House Bunny (1 out of 4)
  • 2007- Knocked Up (1 out of 4)
  • 2006- Volver (1 out of 4)
  • 2005- Red Eye
  • 2004- Dead Clowns
  • 2003- Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
  • 2002- Talk to Her
  • 2001- Jeeper’s Creepers
  • 2000- Gossip
  • 1999- All About My Mother
  • 1998- The X-Files
  • 1997- Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion
  • 1996- The Last Supper
  • 1995- The Usual Suspects
  • 1994- The Color of Night
  • 1993- Surf Ninjas
  • 1992- The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag
  • 1991- Pump Up the Volume
  • 1990- Wild at Heart
  • 1989- Bull Durham
  • 1988- Crossing Delancey
  • 1987- The Big Easy
  • 1986- Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
  • 1985- Better off Dead
  • 1984- Oxford Blues
  • 1983- MetalStorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn
  • 1982- The Thing
  • 1981- Honky Tonk Freeway
  • 1980- Schock
  • 1979- Rich Kids
  • 1978- Coma

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

43 responses to “Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: Volver (2006)”

  1. Droid says :

    As is my usual reaction to Almodovar, I’ll pass. Sounds dreadfully boring. Good review though.

    (Putting on my grammar nazi editors hat for a second, you called the film Vovler once and you also said “then you what you have” in the first paragraph.)

    • Jarv says :

      Ta. Written while on pain meds so blundered.

      It’s got a prosthetic arse though- surely that’s of interest?

      If I were to recommend an Almodovar, it would be Talk to Her by a mile, this however, is restrained and tasteful. Deathly fucking boring though.

      • Droid says :

        I’d much prefer seeing Cruz’s real arse.

      • Jarv says :

        She doesn’t get them out.

        And Cruz has been stripped naked in lots of his films + Jamon Jamon. She’s not shy.

      • Jarv says :

        Actually, this is a real bugbear for me in this film. I know, given the subject matter that sex is off the table, so why in the name of all that is sacred does the filthy old perv strip the daughter down gratuitously for a shower scene? This could have been implied, and would have made no difference- the murder doesn’t take place on camera.

        Man, this film sucks. I had it remembered as a 3 Chang film, and sat through it with mounting hatred and dismay.

      • Droid says :

        What were you on? Normally our opinion will retrospectively change by half a chang, one at the most. Iron Man from 3 to 2 on second viewing is one of mine. But slashing 2 changs off the rating is a monumentally huge drop off.

      • Jarv says :

        Nothing. I watched it before I got the drugs.

        I’m astonished at how much I disliked it this time around. Maybe I’ve got less tolerant in the last 5 years, but it basically cockteases the audience with all these potentially interesting things, and then it turns out to be a standard bloody Almodovar Telenovella, except without the nudity and violence he usually stuffs in.

        For the missus though, she actually enjoyed it a bit more. But that was because she spent the first 20 minutes laughing at me and saying “you’d forgotten this was a chick flick”.

      • Jarv says :

        The thing is, even at 1 chang it’s still one of the better Almodovar’s out there, simply because it doesn’t make you want to scrub your eyes after watching it.

        Talk to Her, Bad Education and The Skin I Live In are his best, but the last two are viscerally unpleasant. The rest of them are pretty much shite, with Volver at least being boring and not vile unlike, say, Dark Habits, which is boring and really vile.

      • Droid says :

        Sure. So if I was going to watch a film because of her arse, I’d watch one that features her real arse.

  2. Just Pillow Talk says :


    I just remember it was a struggle to try and stay awake with this one.

    And it does boggle one’s mind how the bastard cast Cruz but didn’t have her strip her clothes off. Puzzling, guess it was the fake ass.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s astonishing. Really. Particularly when he’s not usually shy of making actresses get naked. Whatsername in TSILI is practically tits oot for the entire film.

  3. tombando says :

    Jarv you need to do a Harold Film Re-visit(TM) of Turdmen, and give us a review of THAT.

    • Toadkillerdog says :

      Good review Jarv,
      I have never watched an Almodovar movie and I will skip this one, but i may have to look for a Cruz movie with her in a uh, state of less dress?

      Hey Jarv, serious question is there any movie that you absolutely would not watch?

      I mean a mainstream movie

      • Jarv says :


        There’s loads. Usually Rom Coms that I won’t touch.

      • Jarv says :

        Naked Cruz- Jamon Jamon is probably the best film, and isn’t Almodovar, so she’s not giving birth on public transport or anything icky like that.

      • Droid says :

        Hey Jarv, serious question is there any movie that you absolutely would not watch?

        I mean a mainstream movie

        You answered your own question. Jarv’s viewing habits lives on the fringe of society, in the dark alleys, the seedy after club watering holes, the pay by the hour motels. Venturing outside during the day, into the light of the mainstream, pains the eyes and burns the skin.

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        Ha! R2, so that explains it.
        Jarv is a cinepire!

      • Droid says :

        You should see him sparkle.

      • Jarv says :




      • Toadkillerdog says :

        Ooo, low blow!
        So now there is team jarv, team jacob and team the guy who was in harry potter?

        I have only watched part of the first twilight flick when it was on cable and me and rufus were more than a bit inebriated and i fell asleep anyway. now i have to look up his name and character name

      • Droid says :

        Edward. He’s “perfect”, doncha know.

        To take on Team Jarv, I think Team Jacob and Team Edward should join forces, and form Team Jedward.


        (I doubt anyone outside of England will actually get this.)

      • Droid says :

        Are these two dead yet? And if not, who’s to blame?

      • Jarv says :

        I fucking hate that pair of horrible Irish cunts. I blame you.

      • Droid says :

        I must have missed that memo. I apologise for shirking my responsibility. I’ll get right on it.

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        I can’t even begin to comment on that!

      • Droid says :

        Just look at them. Have you ever seen a more punchable pair of faces? Top that off with the fact that they’re annoying, cretinous, talentless sacks of shit, and you get the idea.

      • Jarv says :

        He’s right. Fucking cunts, the pair of them.

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        Justin Bieber after he stuck his tongue in an amplifier and was cloned?

  4. tombando says :

    So who are the two Jim Carey wanna bees up there-????

    • Jarv says :


      Awful pair of Irish cockwombles. Be thankful they didn’t cross the pond.

      • Jarv says :

        Watched the spidey trailer. Why are these films allergic to him keeping his fucking mask on when he’s in costume?

      • Droid says :

        Looks even cartoonyer than the Raimi ones.

      • Jarv says :

        Looks shit, to be honest.

      • Droid says :

        Yes, I’m not exactly enthused by the prospect of another mediocre Spiderman movie. Even if it features ESZ.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        One thing kind of going for it is that the Spidy trailer actual had him hitting classic Spidy poses from the comic strips.

        But then this new flick continues the puzzling trend of Spidy taking off his mask at the drop of a hat. For Christ sakes he’s a super hero not a stripper. I really don’t understand that choice.

      • Jarv says :

        It is fucking puzzling- surely they must know that if they’re signing on for a film called FUCKING SPIDER MAN then there’s a fair chance he will be wearing a mask.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I don’t get it i guess its something the actor demands.

  5. ThereWolf says :

    Don’t think I’ll bother with that, sounds like a hideous load of claptrap.

    And for pity’s sake delete that picture of them two talentless twat-hats. No need whatsoever to inflict that on anyone.

  6. Xiphos0311 says :

    Jesus Almodovar is a self important sounding twat isn’t he?

    • Jarv says :


      He’s beloved in Spain, for basically being gay and making subversive shit under Franco. But, he’s a pompous douchebag that makes terrible films. I think of him as a Spanish Ken Russel without the good films Ken made.

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