All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999)


Cecilia Roth (Manuela), Marisa Paredes (Huma Rojo), Penélope Cruz (Hermona Rosa), Atonia San Juan (Agrado), Candela Pena (Nina). Screenplay by Pedro Almodóvar. Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Rating: 15. Running time: 101 minutes.

I don’t understand anything about All About My Mother, except for the fact it is an absolutely incredible, outrageously powerful work of art. I’m confused by its story, by whether we’re supposed to cry or giggle or do both simultaneously, by whether its characters are pathetic or strangely and touchingly human. Just consider the film’s furniture: a heroin junkie with a key role in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire, a transsexual prostitute, and a transvestite who impregnates a nun, the lives of which are all interlinked by a grieving mother – Manuela – returning home to Barcelona from Madrid after the death of her son in a road accident. She works in a surgery that deals with organ donations, and even acts as a distraught relative for the sake of training doctors. Then the tables turn and the next time we see the conversation it’s real. The call for empathy is irresistible, but so are the forthcoming demands for genuine laughter at the personality and sense of humour of the transsexual Agrado – an old friend of Manuela who becomes bruised from an attack at ‘work’ and shrieks at the sight of herself in the mirror appearing to allegedly look like The Elephant Man. From drama to comedy and back again, this story that must look so silly as a synopsis, or even as a fully fleshed-out screenplay, manages to somehow steer us through Almodóvar’s bold but oh-so warm imagination and wild vision of matriarchy. This all goes without even mentioning how, quite stunningly, every set is decorated as if with the intention of being submitted to an exhibition for a day long viewing, not for a fleeting few seconds on the silver screen. I repeat my opening confession of ignorance, even confusion, as to the sources of its power, but in All About My Mother, the power of film is undoubtedly there in abundance for all to see and cherish.

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