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On a trip to her hometown to visit her parents’ grave with her sister, Sole (Lola Dueñas), and her teenage daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo), Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) becomes worried about her Aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave). Paula seems to be much too old to care for herself. She’s feeble and nearly blind, and she’s obviously lost her mind, since she claims that her sister, Irene (Carmen Maura)—Sole and Raimunda’s mother, who died three years ago in a fire—is taking care of her. But while Raimunda thinks the idea is ridiculous, many of the people in the village claim to have seen Irene’s ghost. They believe she has unfinished work to take care of—and she won’t be able to rest until her work is finished.

When Aunt Paula dies, Raimunda is in the middle of a crisis—one that’s so serious that she isn’t even able to attend the funeral. Instead, she has to stay home and take care of some unfinished business of her own. But Sole travels back home—and, while she’s there, Irene appears to her. Irene even follows Sole home. She moves into Sole’s guest room and begins helping out with Sole’s illegal hair salon—but she makes Sole promise not to tell her sister about her reappearance. And although Irene claims she’s returned to care for Sole, who’s separated from her husband and running her own business, it’s clear that Irene’s real unfinished business is with Raimunda.

Volver is a memorable film about the strong—but often difficult—relationship between mothers and daughters. It’s about facing the mistakes and problems that haunt our past—and finally being able to move on. The characters are strong, as is the nearly all-female cast. And the story is moving—yet, despite its often dark and serious subject matter, writer/director Pedro Almodóvar still manages to keep things relatively light and even humorous at times.

Though Penélope Cruz doesn’t translate all that well to American movies, she definitely shines in her native language. And it doesn’t hurt that she has a friend and supporter in Almodóvar, who loves giving her juicy roles like this one (he also loves showing off her cleavage, but that’s another discussion for another day). But should Cruz be dusting off her mantle? Probably not. This is probably the best I’ve ever seen her—but she’s not exactly Oscar-worthy yet.

Volver isn’t always the easiest film to watch due to the issues it faces and the difficult subjects it brings up. It’s not exactly a cheery movie, but it is beautifully done. In fact, it’s one of the best foreign films I’ve seen in a while, and that makes it worth checking out.

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