A Volver to the Feast
By Brent Eisenbarth
In Volver, feasting signifies the Raimunda and Irene’s liberation from their husbands. Their husbands’ entombment marks the reversal of the eaten with the eater: while both men formerly feasted off the women’s labor, untethered from them their wives may now serve feasts to others. This movie ties feasting with female liberation and motherhood, contrasts drugs with food, and marks reunification.
In the movie, although Raimunda and her mother Irene provided their husbands with food and sexual substance, their gluttonous husbands looked for sexual satisfaction outside of their marriage. Paco, inebriated, attempts to rape Raimunda’s daughter Paula, and Irene’s husband has an affair with Augustina’s mother. Paula kills Paco in defense, and Irene burns her home, killing her husband and his mistress. Both cycles of Volver’s multi-generational plot concern regaining agency, and agency is marked by food.
“Remember, I killed him,” Raimunda directs Paula, in order to spare her from legal retribution. Although Paula killed Paco in self-defense, the morning after Raimunda hides the body into a restaurant freezer. In an immediate next scene, a cameraman enters the restaurant ask her to prepare them daily meals, thus enabling her to provide for her daughter. Cinematically, the camera cuts from the freezer-coffin to the intruding filmmaker, leaving no space for further plot development between Paco’s burial in the freezer and Raimunda’s sudden financial stability. Immediately seeking food from other neighbors, all women, Raimunda restaurant provides stable money for Regina, an exotic dancer. Food not only liberates Raimunda, but it also empowers her female companions to provide for themselves.
Through food, Irene similarly develops a new capacity to provide. Following her arson, Irene feigns a ghost to feed her feeble sister, Tía Paula (Aunt Paula). While she failed to protect Raimunda from her father’s abuse prior to his death, cooking marks Irene’s assumption of the role of provider and as a mother. Near the beginning of the movie, Irene namelessly gives her daughters food through Aunt Tía, marking the beginning of the reconciliation between Irene and Raimunda, mother and daughter. Similarly, after protecting Paula from aftermath of Paco’s death, Raimunda assumes the role as cook. Food in the film marks maternal provision.
Drugs contrast food’s role as restorative in the film. Paco is presumably an alcoholic, who was fired to due drunkenness. He mooches off of his wife, to the degree that she contemplates picking up Sunday work while he watches football with a beer. Similarly, while the viewer and characters assume Irene dead, and thus without agency, the film empathizes drugs. Agustina strikes blunt and discusses her drug use. In contrast, a small case a food Irene prepared foreshadowed her life and reconciliation with Raimunda. As characters believe Irene is a ghost, and later alive throughout the film, Irene progressively serves more meals on screen, ranging from her small snack box for her daughters (when presumed dead), and escalating to the meal she prepares at the end of the film, reunited, alive with her daughters. In contrast, Augustine becomes sickly, thus dramatically lessening her drug usage on camera.
Finally, food marks reunification in the film. When Raimunda’s serves the filmmakers a celebratory final feast midway through the film, Soledad brings Irene to the feast to watch from the car. When Raimunda performs a song Irene taught her, the “ghost” and her daughter make eye-contact; one in the feast, paralleling the realm of the living, and the other isolated in the dark car, paralleling the dead. While this feast is party and excess, with lavish tequila’s and meals, the aforementioned reunification feast in meal Tía Paula’s home is plentiful yet familial.
In conclusion, the feast plays a pivotal role in Volver. With food, agency returns (vuelve) to the women, contrasting the drugs present prior to their empowerment. Finally, food unifies them twice. The preparation of feasts is a process through which the protagonists heal, bringing an end to multigenerational strife.
Volver. Dir. Pedro Almodóvar. Perf. Penelope Cruz. Sony Pictures Classics, 2006. DVD.