Volver: Spanish Pork Tenderloin in Orange Sauce

Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Yohana Cobo, Blanca Portillo
(R, 121 min.)

"In love and in war women are more barbaric than men." Friedrich Nietzsche

Perhaps Pedro Almodovar is the Spanish version of Alfred Hitchcock, who always ended his weekly televised presentation of murder and mayhem with an acidly ironic maxim. With an equally insouciant style, Almodovar sugarcoats dark deeds with a vibrant palette, a practical veneer, and a comic brush.

While he entertains audiences and wows the critics, his whimsical tone also numbs us to the moral consequences determinedly repressed by his delightful Spanish sisterhood as well.

Most of the film’s action is propelled by two almost concurrent deaths, one of the quite natural variety for an old and ailing aunt who succumbs shortly after a visit from her two nieces, Raimunda (Peneope Cruz) and Sole (Lola Duenas). The other is a rather bloody exit for Paco, the lazy husband Raimunda tolerates, but whose drunken sexual advances her daughter Paula does not.

While the ever practical Raimunda busies herself in mopping up the oozing red puddle of blood on her linoleum floor and then lugging the wrapped Paco off to cold storage, she never considers that in so covering for her daughter’s rational act of self defense she has created a guilty secret when there should have been none. But then, as we find out later, Raimunda and her kin, are particularly adept at this sort of thing.

But what irritated me, not during but after the film, was the insidious way in which we, the audience, as we snicker at her efforts to maneuver Paco into his temporary quarters in a deep freeze, are manipulated into becoming Raimunda’s co conspirators of sorts. And all the while, the silent Paula guards her secret with a stoic mask not so different from that assumed by other teens for much less tragic circumstances. At one point she explains her funk – “I’m going through a difficult period” – sounding more like a put upon parent and creating, for me, one of the funnier lines of the film.

While Raimunda is coping with her unexpected widowhood, she stumbles into an opportunity to provide the meals for a local film crew, this serendipitous offer occurring as she checks in on Paco, still in his very crude cryogenic sleep in the restaurant deep freeze next door. As she shops for fresh vegetables, bargains with neighbors for their special cuts of pork and sausage, or chops up firm tomatoes and tender peppers with a practiced hand and a very sharp knife, Raimunda seems impervious to the frozen meat so close by.

Meanwhile her resourceful sister, Sole, is coping with a secret of her own, the "return" (volver) of their mother from the grave they have visited regularly for four years now. A strangely fleshy specter, Abuela Irene (Carmen Maura) volunteers to help out her daughter in her unlicensed home-run beauty parlor, if she first can get a cut and color herself. Looking in the mirror – is it only vampires who cannot see their reflection, but ghosts as well? – she now understands why Sole was so frightened upon finding her in the car trunk. Her lank grey hair is enough to jolt anyone.

The father, killed in the same conflagration as his wife, however, remains tidily in his grave, absent, as are most of the men in the film. In fact, the only thing missing from Raimunda’s tidy apartment is an open copy of Maureen Dowd’s Are Men Necessary?. As the plot thickens, we begin to see them as mere necessary evils, responsible for the rash and violent acts to which they drive their women.

For all his madcap comedy and absurdist touches, Almodovar’s vision is a skewed one that points a boney accusatory finger at one sex while warmly excusing the other. Perhaps gay men make the best feminists after all.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

The ever-resourceful Raimunda quickly comes up with everything she needs to feed a film crew of thirty in the restaurant next store. That she is merely supposed to be showing it to prospective buyers for her neighbor/friend, Emilio and not taking over the whole establishment is one of the little niceties that the buxom beauty ignores, knowing perhaps that Emelio will eventually melt under the influence of her big brown eyes.

She quickly bargains with her neighbor for the fresh supply of pork she has just bought, promising to pay her for it the next day. With a few vegetables picked up from the market, she transforms it and herself into a delectable package, an entrepreneur enticing as the delicacies she prepares. 

So, after you have feasted upon the lovely Penelope Cruz with the same devotion accorded her by the camera, enjoy this almost equally delightful Lomo de Cerdo Asado a la Naranja, Spanish Pork Tenderloin in Orange Sauce.

Spanish Pork Tenderloin in Orange Sauce

"This recipe comes from several sources in Castilla, Extremadura, and Andalucia and even has a close equivalent in a recipe from the sixteenth century. The pork acquires a slight sweetness and a rich flavor from he orange juice, and it is a dish in which all elements meld perfectly. Although already a tender cut of meat, the pork tenderloin is further tenderized by he orange juice." From LA COCINA DE MAMÁ

  •  tablespoons olive oil
  • Two 3/4 pound pork tenderloins
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 medium onion, slivered
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  • Scant 1/8 teaspoon crumbled thread saffron


Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a shallow casserole, heat the oil and brown the meat all over, sprinkling with salt and pepper as it browns. Remove to a warm platter. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is softened. Return the meat to the pan and add the parsley, thyme, orange juice, broth, and saffron. Bring to a boil, cover, and bake for about 1 hour, until the meat's internal temperature reaches 160°F. Slice the meat at an angle, about 1/2 inch thick, and spoon on the sauce.

Serves: 6

Recipe Source: In Mama’s Kitchen.com