All About My Mother

1999, Movie, R, 101 mins


Classic melodrama given a thoroughly modern, utterly Almodovarian face-lift: gender-bending liaisons, outrageous turns of fortune and theatrical contrivances abound, all art directed to a candy-colored fare-thee-well. The story revolves around the twin themes of performing and mothering, and provides a quartet of actresses with the roles of a lifetime. Having lost her beloved son Esteban (Eloy Azorin) in an accident on the night of his 17th birthday, grieving Manuela (Cecilia Roth) decides impulsively to return to Barcelona, where she lived when she first came to Spain from Argentina. Manuela abandoned Esteban's father there 18 years earlier, after he reimagined himself as a promiscuous transvestite named Lola (Toni Canto); Lola subsequently became a drug addict, a thief and a hustler, but Manuela feels obligated to tell him about the death of the son he never knew. Manuela hunts down their old friend Agrado (Antonia San Juan), a sweet-natured, transgendered prostitute, who in turn introduces Manuela to angelic Sister Rosa (Penelope Cruz), who ministers to streetwalkers and is the last person to have seen Lola. In fact, Sister Rosa is pregnant by Lola, which makes the whole situation just that little bit more complicated. Manuela also insinuates herself into the life of aging actress Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes), who's appearing with her much younger lover Nina (Candela Pena) in the touring production of A Streetcar Named Desire that Manuela and Esteban saw the night he died. Like all writer/director Pedro Almodovar's films, this wild mix of farce, fabulous fashions and heartache is a visual tour-de-force, but beneath the flourishes lies a deep well of genuine feeling. The title echoes classic bitch-fest ALL ABOUT EVE, but Almodovar's deep-rooted love of women produces an entirely different coloration; his film is a celebration of friendship, family and resilience that's touching without ever being cloying. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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