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Anyone who's ever wondered what all the fuss was about when it comes to Penelope Cruz would do well to give Pedro Almodovar's Volver (2006) a spin. Unlike so many of the characters Cruz has played since making the leap from Spanish-language films to Hollywood, Volver's Raimunda — earthy, sensuous, confident, and capable — feels like a real, lived-in woman. Part of that is thanks to Almodovar's gift for working with actresses; he's known for eliciting both career-defining performances and adoration from his female stars. And part of it is certainly due to the fact that Cruz is working in her native land and language. But most of it comes down to talent, which Cruz seems happy to remind viewers she's got in spades. In so many ways, then, Volver (which translates as "to return") really is a return for Cruz: a return to working with Almodovar (he previously directed her in All About My Mother), a return home to Spain, and a return to the level of acting she's always been capable of. The movie's title also refers to one of its central events — the unexpected return of Raimunda's mother, Irene (Carmen Maura, another Almodovar veteran), who supposedly died in a fire several years before. Is she a spirit? The superstitious ladies in the small village Raimunda and her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) grew up in, including lonely neighbor Augustina (Blanca Portillo), are certainly quick to think so. Or could there be a much more earthly reason for her reappearance? The mystery will eventually be answered; in the meantime, Raimunda must cope with cleaning up the aftermath of some unexpected domestic violence, running the restaurant next door to her Madrid apartment building, and managing her teenage daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo). Volver wouldn't be an Almodovar film without a few soap-operaish twists, but overall — like its star — it's engaging and authentic. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings the film to DVD in a lovely anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with strong Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in the original Spanish (English subtitles are available). The list of special features includes a commentary track with Cruz and Almodovar (the director, true to form, is quite chatty); a slightly wistful "making-of" featurette (it foregoes narration in favor of music from the soundtrack); interviews with Almodovar, Cruz, and Maura; a Q&A session with Cruz from the 2006 AFI Fest; photo and poster galleries; and a bevy of previews. The somewhat-repetitive interviews and the Q&A unfortunately suffer from inconsistent audio, but fans will probably still enjoy them. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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