Coming back to La Mancha is always to come back to the maternal breast.
During the writing of the script and the filming, my mother was always present and very near. I don’t know if the film is good (I’m not the one to say), but I’m sure that it did me a lot of good to make it. I have the impression, and I hope it’s not a passing feeling, that I have managed to slot in a piece whose misalignment has caused me a lot of pain and anxiety throughout my life, I would even say that in recent years it had damaged my existence, dramatizing it too much).
The piece I am talking about is “death”, not just mine and that of my loved ones but the merciless disappearance of all that is alive. I have never accepted or understood it. And that puts you in a distressing situation when faced with the increasingly faster passing of time.
The most important thing that comes back in “Volver” is the ghost of a mother, who appears to her daughters. In my village those things happen (I grew up hearing stories of apparitions), yet I don’t believe in apparitions. Only when they happen to others, or when they happen in fiction. And this fiction, the one in my film (and here comes my confession) has produced a serenity in me such as I haven’t felt for a long time (really, serenity is a word whose meaning is a mystery to me). I have never in my life been a serene person (and it’s never mattered to me in the slightest).
Restlessness and anxiety
My innate restlessness, along with a galloping dissatisfaction, has generally acted as a stimulus. It’s been in recent years that my life has gradually deteriorated, consumed by a terrible anxiety. And that wasn’t good either for living or for working. In order to direct a film, it’s more important to have patience than to have talent. And I had lost all patience a long time ago, particularly with trivial things, which are what require most patience. This doesn’t mean that I have become less of a perfectionist or more complacent, not at all. But I believe that with “Volver” I have recovered part of my “patience”, a word that naturally entails many other things. I have the impression that, through this film, I have gone through a mourning period that I needed, a painless mourning (like that of the character of Agustina the neighbor). I have filled a vacuum, I have said goodbye to something (my youth?) to which I had not yet said goodbye and needed to, I don’t know. There is nothing paranormal in all this. My mother hasn’t appeared to me, although, as I said, I felt her presence closer than ever.
Tribute to social rites
“Volver” is a tribute to the social rites practiced by the people of my village with regard to death and the dead. The dead never die. I have always admired and envied the naturalness with which my neighbors talk of the dead, cultivate their memory and tend their graves constantly. Like the character of Agustina in the film, many of them look after their own grave for years, while they are alive. I have the optimistic feeling that I have been impregnated with all that and that some of it has stayed with me.
I never accepted death; I’ve never understood it (I’ve said that already). For the first time, I think I can look at it without fear, although I continue to neither understand nor accept it. I’m starting to get the idea that it exists.
Despite being a non-believer, I’ve tried to bring the character (of Carmen Maura) from the other world. And I’ve made her talk about heaven, hell and purgatory. I’m not the first one to discover that the other world is here. The other world is this one. We are hell, heaven or purgatory, they are inside us. Sartre put it better than I.
The happiest memories of my childhood are related to the river. My mother used to take me with her when she went to wash clothes there because I was very little and she had no one with whom to leave me. There were always several women washing clothes and spreading them out on the grass. I would sit near my mother and put my hand in the water, trying to stroke the fish that answered the call of the fortuitously ecological soap the women used back then and which they made themselves.
The river, the rivers, they were always a celebration. It was also in the waters of a river where, a few years later, I discovered sensuality. Undoubtedly the river is what I miss most from my childhood and adolescence. The women would sing while they were washing. I’ve always liked female choirs. My mother used to sing a song about some gleaners who would greet the dawn working in the fields and singing like joyful little birds. I sang the fragments that I remembered to the composer on “Volver”, my faithful Alberto Iglesias, and he told me it was a song from the operetta “La rosa del azafrán”.
In my ignorance, I would never have thought that that heavenly music was an operetta. That is how the theme has become the music that accompanies the opening credits. In “Volver”, Raimunda is looking for a place to bury her husband and she decides to do it on the banks of the river where they met as children. The river, like the graphics of any transport, like tunnels or endless passageways, is one of many metaphors for time.
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