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NYFF: “Volver.”

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"It was a windy day."
Can we finally dispense with the popular proclamation that Pedro Almodóvar is the great director of women? The almost entirely female slew of characters in "Volver" are gorgeously photographed (Penélope Cruz has never look better) — the camera’s loving, lust-free gaze lingers on their ankles, plunging necklines and possibly prosthetic rears. They are vulnerable but resourceful, they are fierce and loving in their friendships and familial relationships, they greet each other with an amplified buss on each cheek, and their sweeping, unarticulated sisterhood hovers beyond the detection of men, who in the film exist only to admire from afar or wound up close. They are so not real.

This is beyond the director’s standard adulation of women; this is mythologizing a concept of femininity constructed from idealized maternal memories, Douglas Sirk, Sophia Loren and a touch of camp. That’s not so much a criticism (though it does chafe a bit) as an observation; "Volver" is more indulgent and inward-looking than it first appears, a journey into Almodóvarian fantasyland.

The film is possibly his least challenging. It is a pleasure to watch, as warm and comforting as its fanciful narrative concept, that one’s mother could return from the grave to provide solace and support when it is most needed. Cruz’s character, Raimunda, is the film’s luminous, suffering center, supporting her drunk layabout husband and her teenage daughter Paula by working several jobs, and sometimes driving back to the village in which she grew up to check in on and fret over her senile aunt, who seems to be doing mystifyingly well living by herself. When her husband makes a (not so incestuous, we soon learn) move on Paula and the girl unintentionally kills him in self-defense, Raimunda hides the body in the freezer of nearby recently closed restaurant. In doing so she serendipitously stumbles upon a new source of income — providing meals for a film crew shooting in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, her sister Sole returns from a funeral in the village to find a stowaway in her trunk — her mother Irene, who supposedly died in a fire five years ago, and who’s played by the marvelous, mischievous-eyed Carmen Maura. Hijinks ensue — Irene finds ways to hide from Raimunda, not yet ready to confront her; Raimunda disposes of the body with the help of the requisite cheery local prostitute; family secrets emerge.

We’ve never been particular devotees of Almodóvar, but if we sound a bit hostile in writing about "Volver," it’s not because it’s a bad film. It’s just too easy. We don’t begrudge his longing to return to a more naive mode of filmmaking, but here it feels like he’s coasting through familiar territory, and there are scattered moments of greatness that are frustrating reminders of what he’s done in the past. We seem to be in the critical minority with this one — there is no denying that the film is imminently watchable, if not so memorable.

Screens at Alice Tully Hall on October 7 and 8; opens in New York and L.A. on November 3rd.

+ "Volver" (NYFF)
+ "Volver" (Sony Pictures Classics)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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