Volver (Blu-ray) (2006)

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Released 8-Jun-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 116:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Pedro Almodóvar
Studio
Distributor
Icon Entertainment Starring Penélope Cruz
Carmen Maura
Lola Dueñas
Blanca Portillo
Yohana Cobo
Chus Lampreave
Antonio de la Torre
Carlos Blanco
María Isabel Díaz
Neus Sanz
Leandro Rivera
Yolanda Ramos
Carlos García Cambero
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Alberto Iglesias


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Spanish Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (4608Kb/s)
Spanish DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 (4608Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English (Burned In) Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   In 2007 I had the pleasure of reviewing the standard definition release of this modern Spanish melodrama from the master of modern Spanish melodramas, Pedro Almodovar. It was originally distributed by Magna Pacific and re-issued by Icon Entertainment last year. My review of the Magna release can be found here and the Icon re-issue review can be found here.

     It has taken a while for the film to get a Blu-ray release. The question for purchasers with Blu-ray equipment is whether it is a worthwhile purchase. Some people, like me, will never buy another standard definition film where the Blu-ray exists. For others the question is one of price and performance. Quality really depends on three issues; whether the video transfer is superior, whether the sound transfer is superior and whether there are sufficient interesting Blu-ray exclusive extras. See below for my views on each.

     In the meantime, below is what I said about the movie in my earlier review. My colleague DanielB gently admonished me for giving a little too much away in the plot description, so don't venture too far if you want the film to be a surprise! :

        If there is one thing that Spanish writer/director Pedro Almodovar understands, or at least strives to understand, it is the world of women - their earthiness, differences and deep mysteries. Volver is the latest in a loose series of Almodovar films celebrating Spanish womanhood. It was a huge hit internationally and earned many times its budget back at the box office. As well, star Penelope Cruz gained a Best Actress Oscar nomination, losing out to Helen Mirren for The Queen.

     Like so many of Almodovar's works, Volver is a complex melodrama with elements of comedy. The title itself means "return" or "coming back" and the film in fact marks a number of returns. Firstly, Almodovar came back to his birthplace, La Mancha, for filming. Secondly, for the first time in 17 years he works again with his early muse Carmen Maura. Thirdly, his more recent star Penelope Cruz finds her way back from the bright lights of Hollywood into the fold.

     The plot of Volver takes some time to coalesce and viewers at first may be confused at the jumble of characters and their complex back stories thrown onto the screen. As the film begins we see a group of women hard at work in a cemetery, cleaning the tombstones of the dear departed. It is a beginning which sets up death and remembrance as the pivotal themes of the work. Sisters Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) and Sole (Lola Dueñas) are still feeling the recent loss of their mother and father, killed in a tragic house fire. Not only are their parents dead but Aunt Paula is on her way out - lame, mostly blind and, what is worse, she claims to be tended by her dead sister!

     Raimunda has a daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo, a teenager who has attracted the eye of her father, Paco. One night she is set upon by Paco who wants to have his wicked way with her - claiming that he is not her real father by way of justification. Paula runs him through with a kitchen knife and Raimunda must make the decision whether to cover up the evidence and tell everyone that the husband has left her, or confess to the police. Naturally she chooses the deceptive option and Paco gets stuffed into the freezer of a disused restaurant at the bottom of their street. The restaurant owner has given Raimunda the keys to look after the place but, after a chance meeting with a member of a film crew shooting in the area, Raimunda decides to open the restaurant for business.

     Meanwhile, Aunt Paula has died and her neighbour Agustina (Blanca Portillo) can't get over the feeling that Paula was visited by the ghost of Raimunda's mother. She is not far wrong. After a visit to Paula's funeral the mother Irene (Carmen Maura) turns up seemingly very much alive in the boot of Sole's car!

     Agustina, fighting a battle with cancer, is determined to get to the bottom of the mysteries surrounding the death of the husband and wife and the disappearance of her own mother. Raimondo, meanwhile, is trying to make sense of her mother's return and the dark secrets of her own past.

     It is no wonder that six actresses in the cast of Volver were awarded a Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival. For even though Penelope Cruz plays the lead in this film she is very much part of the ensemble. Hers is a performance of depth and ferocity, driven by a desire to ensure that her daughter is not trapped in the same manner as herself. Her Raimunda is sexy and difficult, earthy yet goddess-like. Duenas is also brilliant - many will remember her from The Sea Inside and it is good to see Almodovar working again with Carmen Maura. The men in the film are close to non-existent and Almodovar doesn't try to turn the film into a romance - instead he concentrates on these strong women and their steps towards truth and reconciliation.

    This is a comedy with some bite and a melodrama of depth.

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Transfer Quality

Video

       Volver was shot on 35mm film and shown in the cinemas in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

    Both previous Region 4 releases did not present the film in that ratio, cropping it to a user friendly 1.85:1. When I reviewed the DVD I felt that the cropped aspect ratio was a disappointment but that otherwise the transfer was pretty good - clear, clean and richly coloured.

     Is the Blu-ray a big change? Well, purists will rejoice that the 2.35:1 aspect ratio is preserved for this release. The film receives a solid Blu-ray transfer. Almodovar films aren't noted for their bleeding edge cinematography but this is a warm, good looking film. Reds and earth colours dominate. The flesh tones are clear and accurate and there are no imperfections such as edge enhancement or aliasing to be found. There is light grain.

     The subtitles are in English and burned into the print; a pity for those who want to brush up on their Spanish.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

        Volver came to DVD with a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack running at 448Kb/s and a Dolby Digital 2.0 track running at 224 Kb/s. The Blu-ray release has a pair of High Definition soundtracks - 5.1 Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio. Icon has adopted the course of putting the pair of tracks on most of their Blu-ray releases. This is a puzzling decision. There is little need for both tracks as most modern Blu-ray players can decode both.

     In reviewing the DVD release I said:

     In fact the surround sound is not really needed. Apart from giving a more expansive sound to the music I can't recall any surround specific effects and the sub-woofer might as well have been turned off. This is not a criticism, rather a reflection of the fact that dialogue is at the heart of this film. The dialogue is clear and easy to discern (and understand if you speak Spanish) and there appears to be good lip sync, even when Penelope Cruz is miming the singing of a song.

     Are the High Definition scores a massive improvement over the standard definition? Well, the separation seems a little more pronounced and the score by Almodovar regular Alberto Iglesias is fuller and crisper. Still, dialogue is at the heart of this film and the well rendered dialogue is pleasing but not light years ahead of the DVD.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     Extras. What extras?

     The DVD release from Magna contained only a few extras. Below is what I said about them.

Theatrical Trailer

     The theatrical trailer jumbles up the events in the film and must have been confusing to see in the cinema.

Interviews-Cast & Crew

     The interview segments are fairly brief - Almodovar (8.26), Cruz (3.58) and Maura (5.57). The director talks about his own upbringing and the women in his life. He sees the film as positive in nature despite the melodramatic overtones. He speaks Spanish but occasionally breaks into unsubtitled English. Cruz mainly speaks English and describes the pleasures of working with Almodovar. She says that she now lives in Spain. Injudicious editing cuts her off as she says "my favourite director is..." - I assume she said Pedro! Maura talks about the long time between drinks for her work with the director.

     These interviews were interesting but brief.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The lack of extras is a disappointment mainly by comparison with the Region A Blu-ray. This has the following:

    Most of those are ported from the DVD and are apparently not High Definition. Still, the commentary track would have been nice!

Summary

      Volver is at present the only Pedro Almodovar film on Blu-ray. Whether you want to upgrade really depends upon your love of the film. The improvement in picture and sound quality is noticeable, if only occasionally, but the lack of extras is a disappointment.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
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Video format 1080i50? -