MOVIE REVIEWS: Volver; Notes on a Scandal

On Washington’s Birthday weekend 1998, I saw five movies, four of them nominated for Academy Awards: L.A. Confidential and Mrs. Brown on Saturday. Afterglow (starring Julie Christie) and some strange French film on Sunday. Don’t remember which Oscar-nominated film on Monday, maybe The Apostle or The Sweet Hereafter. In any case, by Oscar night, I’d seen every film in the six major categories, (movie, director, 2 actor, 2 actress categories) except Ulee’s Gold with Peter Fonda.

On Washington’s Birthday weekend 2007, I saw two movies, both nominated for Academy Awards. By Oscar night, I will have missed several performances in the major categories. Ah well.

Grandma and Grandpa were up watching Lydia, so that Carol and I could see the Sunday film, Volver (To return), starring Penelope Cruz. I don’t recall having seen her in anything except Pedro Almodovar’s Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother), in which, if I’m remembering correctly, she played a pregnant nun. Almodovar’s Volver is the more conventional film. The returnee is the Cruz character’s dead mother. I enjoyed the unraveling of the mystery; Carol really enjoyed it. Almodovar tends to luxuriate over certain parts of the female body on occasion, such as their rears, and there’s what’s probably an extraneous shot of Cruz washing dishes, shot from above. Ms. Cruz has been criticized for her lightweight acting, but in this film, in her native tongue, the Madrid-born actress is wonderfully caustic, funny and passionate.

The Monday film featured Judi Dench, who I had seen nine years earlier in Mrs. Brown, and Cate Blanchette. Just from the previews, I knew that Dame Dench would be chewing the scenery, and she does, eventually, but so does Ms. Blanchette. My wife said she felt as though she needed a shower afterwards, and I understood what she meant. The Philip Glass score was too much – too loud, and occasionally too obvious and obtrusive. The performances are better than the movie, but I’m not sure that I can explain why.

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