Laughing at death

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Review: ‘Volver’ makes the tragic seem funny

By Kelly Dolejsi

Some movies have an ability to make death — even murder — seem like a normal, non-horrifying, even hilarious part of life, which I understand that it is, but yet when it happens, it obviously doesn’t feel that way. It takes an amazing sort of film to give us that kind of realism.
Pedro Almodovar’s 2006 Oscar-nominated “Volver” (R) is just such an amazing film. A lot of jokes help demystify brutal kitchen carnage and opinioned ghosts, but it’s not just the jokes. The opening scene at a cemetery showing dozens of women cleaning their mothers’, fathers’ and husbands’ gravestones, has the same seriousness as those little Day of the Dead skeletons, the happy ones playing guitars, dancing in top hats or driving fire trucks.
And yes, in the movie even murder has a little of that bony joy. Obviously, human murders are not funny or exactly commonplace. But in nature, murder is not a big surprise. And that’s the kind of murder we see in “Volver:” one wild animal (but, you know, a human) killing another simply because it would have been unreasonable not to.
For those who like emotion, there’s plenty of that, too — especially when a dead person hears her daughter sing. That was really quite beautiful.
Penelope Cruz, Carmen Mora, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo and Yohana Cabo make an inspired ensemble cast. I really like their faces and the close-up way the film is shot. The whole thing made me want to learn Spanish and get a cadaverous canine tattooed on my leg.
“Volver” screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Mesa Public Library, as part of the library’s Free Film Series, which currently features foreign films. The series is made possible by Friends of Mesa Public Library.
For more information, call 662-8240.