According to Freud, the uncanny is “nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old —established in the mind that has been estranged only by the process of repression” (Rivkin and Ryan 429). Already, we see this idea of familiarity in the title of the movie. Volver—which is Spanish for the verb “to return”—implies that the main character, Raimunda, must go back to something. In her case, the “something familiar and old” is the sexual abuse she endures from her father.
This memory is triggered by her husband’s attempted rape of her daughter (who is the product of an incestual rape), as well as by the scent of her mother in her sister’s apartment. For Raimunda, the smell of her mother inside her sister’s apartment gives her an uncanny feeling—as if her mother were right there in the room with them (because she was)—just as the smell of their mother gave Sole a feeling that their mother was there inside their aunt’s apartment earlier in the movie. This feeling brings up a lot of repressed memories about their mother, despite its initial happy connotation.
Though she claimed her mother was lucky for the love she received from her father, Raimunda despises her for never acknowledging or acting on the fact that her father raped her. So, when her own husband ends up abusing her daughter, she feels the need to do more than her mother did. This may be because she feels the need to resist a feeling of sameness between her situation and her daughter’s. Raimunda desires to be better than Irene was, even though she refuses to acknowledge out loud that she actually held a grudge against her mother for something she was unaware of. While the truth about Raimunda’s father comes out, so does the repressed feelings that came forth during her daughter’s abuse.