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Va Va Va Volver

When I was 11, my dad and I had a running debate about who was the most beautiful movie star in the world. I generally argued for Marilyn Monroe while Dad favored Elizabeth Taylor. Then one day, Dad suggested a third alternative: Sophia Loren. Mom, who had always been amused by our discussions, gently suggested a change of subject. It wasn't until years later that I realized she thought Monroe and Taylor -- film goddesses in the Hollywood mold -- were safe topics, but that Loren would inevitably bring sex into the equation.

I mention this because in Volver, which means "to return" in Spanish (and which instantly returned me to our family debate), Pedro Almodovar offers up a new screen goddess. Penelope Cruz has always been beautiful, of course, but in this story of women nurturing each other across generations, the director recreates her as a screen siren in the Loren/Lollobrigida/Magnani mold -- ravishing, earthy, strong, vibrant and deeply sensual. He surrounds her with sirens of other stripes (seductively mature pixie Carmen Maura, chief among them). But Cruz is ever the film's focus, and whether washing dishes or deciding what to do with a body that's inconveniently lying in a pool of blood on her kitchen floor, she's magnificent.

Bob Mondello, who reviews movies forAll Things Considered, now believes that Rita Hayworth was really the most beautiful movie star in the world.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.