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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Coming Back

Every now and again, my favorite ex and I get together so he can try and wean me off my dependence of Hollywood-style blockbusters (and their accompanying sugar highs) by slowly introducing me to art house films where nothing blows up. Or if it does, it is usually off screen and means the whole town is going to die of malaria now. Yesterday, we watched the award-winning 'Volver' starring Penelope Cruz, which some people class as art house, while others class it merely as 'Spanish'. Personally, I class any film as art house where you see:

* the protagonist's useless spouse drinking on a tartan sofa after getting fired
* anyone actually using the bathroom
* far too many cleaning products on display near the kitchen window
* any film where Kate Winslett coughs pointedly into a hankie, and then tries to hide the blood specks.

You can also tell this is an arty film as there's lots of overhead shots of soup and washing up bowls. And my usual fear of it having no plot was unfounded; rather it had too much... it's like Almodóvar is a toddler with ADD when mood-boarding the movie, what with a kooky murder, a restaurant trying to be successful, a few family secrets, neighbour with cancer, people sniffing exercise bikes and an awful lot of wafers. Its just unfortunate that somebody seemingly gave him Liz Taylor's supply of downers for actually writing the script as all this happens at a glacial pace. In the US, they tend to concentrate on only one of those at a time; restaurant needs to be turned around and made successful? Call Catherine Zita-Jones! Kooky murder? Ice Cube's your man to man-handle a comedy corpse into your chest freezer!

I think 'Volver' also suffers from Prodigal Son Syndrome, where a local star returns to their people with the bounty of Hollywood kudos, and enables them to do one or two cross-cultural films which will be a slice of urban, rural life to show their country that they haven't forgotten their cultural roots and how to dye their own hair in the bathroom sink, while still trying to sell it overseas with a cut of the profits. The problem with Cruz is that she hasn't left the right amount of Hollywood when she popped back, and looks far too milky-skinned and flawless. Like you're watching the prom queen starring in the school play, where you know after this she's going to be hanging out in the mall and trying to date inside her faith. Or in the case of Cruz, skip off to some flatteringly-lit L'Oriel advert that hides her nose and doesn't make her look like she'll be begging for carrots at The Grand National.

The one true mark of this is her look in 'Volver' where, yes it may be man-made fibers and chunky heels, but they never look less than flattering, if not couture. Even her 'effortless' back-combed barnet is what thirsty singer Miss Amy Winehouse has been trying to ape for the last few years - well, before a possum seems to move into it each night and nest. Come on, Penny love - even Jane Fonda wore a baggy grey cardie when she's trying to be art house.

On the whole, I was left unmoved by 'Volver' but was glad I had seen it. I now know all about small-town Spanish mourning and how to kiss on cheeks in the noisiest way possible. I still do admire Cruz as an actress - after all she let her monobrow grow out as only the truly famous can get away with (hello, Lordes) and the not-so-famous try (hello, Kerry Katona). In my opinion, any woman who has a convincing crying scene without seeing a depilatator in the last six months deserves a Golden Globe. And that's art house.

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