Saturday, April 14, 2007

Volver & Catch a Fire

Volver (2006, Director Pedro Almodóvar): Rating 9/10

I have to admit that I have enjoyed all the Almodóvar films I have seen so far. That is seven movies in total -- Bad Education, Talk to Her, All About My Mother, Live Flesh, Tie me Up! Tie me Down?, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Matador. And now, I can easily add Volver to that list as well. Put simply, Volver is vintage cinema!

All Almodóvar films have interesting stories, vibrant characters and rich dialogue. The dialogues in his movies are so well tuned that you forget you are watching actors speak lines; the words spoken are natural and don't feel contrived. Ofcourse, in most of his movies, the city is also an essential ingredient -- the characters words and actions are reflective of their environment. A city's heat induces passion (Matador) and in the case of Volver, it is the town's east winds that inspire madness. The cinematography & background score are also top-notch in Volver. The camera draws our attention to only relevant details, be it a dirty sink, empty beer can or even Penélope's cleavage. Every shot has a purpose to it. The background score is a throwback to the days of Alfred Hitchcock -- the music warns us of mystery and danger. The acting is sublime; every expression is spot on. Penélope's additional weight for the role only adds to the realism of her character and she shines in every frame.

Usually, women play a central role in Pedro's films, be it as an affectionate mother, a loyal lover, a femme fatale or an object of desire. But Volver is all about women; there are no men around. Three generations of women are shown and interestingly all their lives are linked by a cyclic chain of events. The consequences of a crime committed in the first generation leads to action & eventual resolution in the third generation. The women shown here are strong and independent to handle anything that comes their way. In the movie, both the oldest woman and youngest girl have the mental & physical strength to either take revenge or defend themselves. The men in the women's lives are un-trustful, abusive and cheating scum. As a result, the women are left to work multiple jobs and do all chores. With time, the women learned to trust each other more and do without men. Ofcourse, sometimes the women have to interact with men for day to day business needs. But they have no problems as long as they keep the men at a distance. And in this movie's case, it is a good thing that the men don't get too close to the women. Otherwise, the engaging drama that is powered by these wonderful female actors would have lost its gloss a little bit.

Catch a Fire (2006, Director Phillip Noyce): 7/10

How does a revolution start? The oppressor either humiliates the occupied or the occupiers presence is a constant insult to a nation's natives. Then a local group attacks a symbol of the occupiers. The occupiers strike back harder. And in their quest for revenge, the occupiers torture a few innocent people. Some of these innocent people can't stand the humiliation and stray over to the other side and start a revolution. Cycle of violence continues, the flames of revolution are lit! Freedom fighters or terrorists? Various films have tackled such similar revolutionary struggles -- The Wind that Shakes that Barley (Irish vs British), The Battle of Algiers (Algerian vs French), Bhagat Singh (Indian vs British), El Violin (Mexican farmers vs Army). Catch the Fire shows the true story of a South African's fight (Patrick Chamusso) in the apartheid era of the 1980's.
While the movie has a good heart, it does not catch fire like its title. Even though there are some beautiful moments (likes the scenes depicting the songs of revolution), the movie feels like a static snapshot of few critical episodes from Patrick's lives. There is no flow from scene to scene and no energy in the movie whatsoever. A worthy watch but it had the potential to be a whole lot more.

Note: It was a nice touch to show the real Patrick at the end of the film. Watching him talk of his emotions lend some perspective & realism to the film.


Unknown said...

I just watched Volver this week and I really liked it too. But couldn't the director give Penelope a scene where she didn't look absolutely beautiful?

Sachin said...

In the quest to make her look so beautiful, Almodóvar introduced a consistency error in the film. Near the start of the movie after the 3 women are leaving the Auntie's house, Penélope is not wearing earrings. As soon as they get in the car, she is wearing long hooped earrings. When she finally stops the car and gets out, the earrings are gone again.

This is an easy observation because the earrings certainly enhance her beauty. But considering that all aspects in his movies are precisely shot, this glaring error sticks out. And the error was easy to introduce because the end goal was to ensure she lookged beautiful in all frames.