Volver , the latest Spanish film from director Pedro Almodóvar, marks his third collaboration with Penélope Cruz, after All About My Mother and Live Flesh . The duo share an astonishing simpatico that rivals other successful actor/director pairings like Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, and Marlene Dietrich and Josef Von Sternberg. Almodóvar's voice emanates through Cruz in an almost symbiotic way.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, Cruz does her best work under the gaze of the director. American filmmakers (maybe dazzled by her?) can't seem to get past her considerable attributes to capture her warmth and intelligence in the interesting and subtle ways that Almodóvar does.

The plot, a melodrama with elements of murder, noir, incest and a ghost, treads familiar ground to fans of the director. I find him to be a cross between the soapy Douglas Sirk and the wacky, colorfulness of Jacques Tati.

Mostly, the story exists so that three generations of women can shine. And they do.

The director seems to luxuriate in letting each character have her moment in the sun. As a result, the plot feels a bit secondary, but still, Volver is most definitely worth watching.

Grade: B