Right from the wonderful opening sequence in a graveyard where a group of women are tidying up the tombs of their departed loved ones, the film takes wings. Raimunda (Cruz) returns to a small town to visit her aunt, who raised her in the absence of her mother. There are hints of dark secrets but nothing is revealed.
Tragedy is waiting in the shadows. When she returns to the city, she finds that her unemployed husband has been stabbed to death by her daughter, apparently in self-defense as he tried to molest her. The ever-resourceful Raimunda hides the body in a freezer and decides to get on with her life. Yet there is more to come: Raimunda's sister finds that the mother they thought was dead actually is alive and kicking. How it all unravels is one of the unadulterated delights of "Volver," and to say more would be to spoil it.
Almodovar claims to have been influenced here by Italian neo-realism, paying homage to Anna Magnani in "Bellissima" and a nod to Federico Garcia Lorca's "House of Bernardo Alba."
The radiant Cruz, looking voluptuous and rounded (in the style of Sophia Loren or Claudia Cardinale in their heydays), has never been more illuminating -- and clearly Almodovar's camera loves her. Equally fine is Carmen Maura, an Almodovar protégée from his early days, who returns to the fold as the ghost mother who has more than a passing resemblance to the director's own madre. Starring Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Chus Lampreave, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo and Yohana Cobo. Directed and written by Pedro Almodovar. Produced by Esther Garcia and Agustin Almodovar. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama/Comedy. Rated R for some sexual content and language. Running time: 111 min