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Toronto fest-goers love Almodovar's latest

September 8, 2006 |  1:48 am

"Volver" — the first major Oscar contender to be seen by journos and industryites at the Toronto fest — sparked hearty applause at the dual screenings held on Thursday at 5:45 p.m. Response wasn't quite the same volcanic eruption of huzzahs that went up last year when the first biggie aired. That was different. Nobody had seen "Capote" beforehand, so surprise added to the emotional intensity of the viewing experience for those sitting in the dark in the exact same two theaters then.

Reax overheard in the lobby afterward confirmed the buzz at Telluride: looks like a good bet that Penelope Cruz will be nommed for best actress for Pedro Almodovar's spooky tale of three women haunted by the memory of a matriarch.

Volver5 columnist Jeff Wells liked it so much that, even though he'd seen it earlier, he attended again. Normally, edgy film critics like Jeff don't like "chick flicks," so I asked him why he's flipping for this one.

"It's not really a chick flick," he insists. "It's another great Pedro film, full of words and music everyone can enjoy and it was worth catching a second time. I'm glad I did. When I originally saw it I didn't think I liked how the story turns, but this time I bought it. I think it works well."

Now add Jeff to a long list of prominent critics who think Pedro's done it again. That means that the latest celluloid outing of an art-house darling who won a rare Academy Award for a script in a foreign tongue ("Talk to Her") is probably back in the derby, along with screen siren Penelope Cruz. At Telluride, Penelope confessed to Oscarologist Pete Hammond that "Volver" is her favorite of all of her past films and she's so devoted to assuring its commercial success that, even though she's leery of flying, she plans to devote the rest of this year to touring with Pedro to promote their pic. That includes all of those Q&A screenings for the guilds, etc., which are an essential part of Oscar campaigning.

Twenty-three roles have reaped Oscar nominations in the past for non-English performances (24 if you count Marlee Matlin using sign language in "Children of a Lesser God"), so it's clear that academy voters are open to foreign-lingo films. The others:

Sophia Loren ("Two Women," "Marriage, Italian Style"), Marcello Mastroianni ("Divorce Italian Style, Italian," "A Special Day," "Dark Eyes"), Anouk Aimee ("A Man And A Woman, French"), Ida Kaminska ("The Shop On Main Street"), Liv Ullman ("The Emigrants," "Face to Face"), Valentina Cortese ("Day for Night, French"), Robert DeNiro ("The Godfather, Part II"), Isabelle Adjani ("The Story of Adele H, French"), Marie-Christine Barrault ("Cousin Cousine"), Giancarlo Giannini ("Seven Beauties"), Ingrid Bergman ("Autumn Sonata"), Max Von Sydow ("Pelle the Conqueror"), Isabelle Adjani ("Camille Claudel"), Gerard Depardieu ("Cyrano de Bergerac"), Catherine Deneuve ("Indochine"), Massimo Troisi (Il Postino ("The Postman)"), Fernanda Montenegro ("Central Station"), Roberto Benigni ("Life Is Beautiful") and Catalina Sandino Moreno ("Maria Full of Grace").

Three have won: Sophia Loren ("Two Women"), Benigni and DeNiro.

In a few days Jeff and I will do a podcast chat full of lots of fest observations. Make sure you check it out. Meantime, follow his fest musings on line — CLICK HERE!

Photo: In "Volver," Penelope Cruz teams up with Pedro Almodovar, who was Oscar nominated twice in 2003 — for writing (he won) and directing "Talk to Her."
(Sony Pictures Classics)