Cannes 2024 review: Volveréis (Jonás Trueba)

“A genuine attempt to capture something ephemeral, and try to frame it in all ways possible, before finally surrendering to its fleeting beauty.”

“Volveréis” = You’ll come back

“Volveré” = I’ll come back

“Volver” = To come back

“Ver” = To see

This cryptic text progression happens around the midway point of Jonás Trueba’s Volveréis, or The Other Way Around in English, when the screen cuts to black, and a placeholder of where the main title ought to be appears. Parts of the Spanish verb fade to give way to new meaning, transforming an affective understanding into a formal reflection.  As with many other scenes that mischievously diffuse the fourth wall, there’s no clear indication if what the audience is seeing is the film within the film directed by protagonist Ale (Itsaso Arana), or Trueba’s own scattered vision constructing itself in real time. After all, in no instance does Volveréis seem to be narrowing down on a singular path, always embracing the semiotic playfulness and controlled chaos of many simultaneous possibilities and meanings colliding and intersecting constantly, not only on a discursive level but an aesthetic one as well.

What is it we actually see in Volveréis? One of the first shots of interaction between Ale and Alex (Vito Sanz), her partner in a 15-year relationship crumbling by the minute, sees them both within the frame. Alex is looking through the window in a more active physical display, while Ale lies in the background talking to Alex, the depth of field and mise-en-scene recreating something akin to an improvisational theatrical experience. In its static staging and emphasis on expressive corporeality Trueba continues expanding his relationship with some of French cinema’s post-nouvelle vague mannerisms. However, the erratic and free-flowing aura, that cinematic impulse to bypass any attempts at traditional pathos and incident, is also ever present. Artifice is at the forefront, with jump cuts, montages, extra-diegetic musical cues, and even aural moments that play up the film’s essayistic nature. 

As is the case with many of Trueba’s films, a plot description mostly defeats the purpose of the kind of sentimental register that’s happening on screen. If a plot were to be established, it would come from a line just seconds into Volveréis, as the first dialogue between Ale and Alex positions their imminent separation and the unorthodox decision to throw a party to celebrate the fact.

“Just like a wedding, but The Other Way Around”.

The fact that this recurring phrase is the film’s English title is more than merely anecdotal. The idea of Volveréis’ structure essentially being an inversion of the “most significant romantic ritual”, that which tends to be reserved for the grand finale, with the “I do” leading to a kiss freeze-framed for posterity as the credits start to roll, is integral to what Trueba is doing.

The first scene is the agreement to a separation. The main antagonistic force of the conventional romance, the dramatic mountain to be climbed, is foregone in seconds. The minutiae behind throwing the party are also consciously bereft of climatic significance, leaving the interactions around this unconventional ritual as the main anchor to Volveréis.

You’ll come back”, perhaps the most common reply to the diverging couple’s rehearsed explanation to their friends, family, and acquaintances, is always followed by some kind of rebuttal that gradually, and subtly, expands the relationship’s microcosm from the initial hermeticism to something fully palpable and multi-layered. The narrative forms of the film are ever-shifting, as narrators change, and structural literary devices are in a constant push-and-pull with a more frontal reflection on cinema’s artifice and how it molds romance.

“Septembre sans attendre” = September without waiting.

The French title provides another key to the film’s ethos. There’s no need to wait until September’s separation party, as the whole feature is a cumulative process before the fact; the scoffing, the frustrations, the laughs, the cries… In a vacuum, each interaction works as a vignette on a particular way of understanding romantic love as the myth of posterity crumbles in front of the recipients. At one point, the genealogy of Golden Age Hollywood Romance is addressed, how everything eventually sorts itself out despite the disparate pairings. In another instance, a heated debate on the merits of raunchy romantic films and their gender politics comes into play, with Alex projecting an aspirational reading on mid-life crisis and romantic melancholy. Even high-brow namedrops of Continental philosophy make their way into Trueba’s dissection of romance in cinema, romance and cinema, and romantic cinema. Volveréis is none of them, and all of them at the same time; a transparent film that rejoices in the archetypal, with its neurotic and clumsy boyfriend and intellectual and passionate girlfriend, yet purposely and constantly subverts its own grounding with a barrage of footnotes and commentary.

Volveréis is a case study without the implied academic detachment. It is a genuine attempt to capture something ephemeral, and try to frame it in all ways possible, before finally surrendering to its fleeting beauty. Trueba’s whole oeuvre can be characterized by being a testament to the enthralling levity of instants. His experiential postcards are always charming, bursting with a signature warmth that turns into its own rhythms. In their repetitions and patterns insights manifest, sneaking up on us as we start expanding our gaze, seeing and experiencing differently, leaving behind the customary structures of affection. Volveréis might be the closest the Spanish filmmaker has come to being fully and frontally self-reflective, and it’s a joy partaking in such vivid introspection.