This is one of the highest peaks of Almodovar’s career, an exquisite work about women and grief, yet with his assured touch, it all seems so life-affirming and universal.
Dir. Pedro Almodovar
1999 | Spain | Drama | 101 mins | 2.35:1 | Spanish & Catalan
M18 (passed clean) for sexuality including strong sexual dialogue, language and some drug content
Cast: Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Candela Pena, Antonia San Juan, Penelope Cruz
Plot: Young Esteban wants to become a writer and also to discover the identity of his father, carefully concealed by his mother Manuela.
Awards: Won Best Director & Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (Cannes); Won Best Foreign Language Film (Oscars)
International Sales: G2
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on DVD – first published 29 Oct 2017)
With the one-two punch of All About My Mother (1999) and Talk to Her (2002), Pedro Almodovar, Spain’s best-known contemporary filmmaker, launched himself into the highest echelons of world cinema filmmaking.
The director of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), arguably his first peak as a filmmaker, and the storied collaboration with his muse Penelope Cruz in such works as Volver (2006) and Broken Embraces (2009), has never found more critical success than in All About My Mother, winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Starring Cecilia Roth—in a remarkably nuanced performance—as Manuela, the hardworking mother of a teenage boy, Esteban, Almodovar’s film centers on their seemingly cordial relationship, but after years of hiding the identity of Esteban’s father, Manuela promises to reveal the truth on a special night.
Of course, in typical fashion, Almodovar charts a different course for his tightly-woven narrative, which sees its fair share of twists and turns, marked by a sense of tragicomic occurrences that would impact the lives of the myriad of colourful characters that adorn the picture.
“I’ve been fucked around a lot, but I’m not a whore.”
Almodovar is a master in creating female characters that speak to the heart—whether you are a man or a woman—and in All About My Mother, he has given us some of his most empathetic characters, ranging from a street whore to a pregnant nun to a transgender, who connect wholeheartedly to each other.
They embody so much humanity and love that despite all the crass talk and painfully emotional scenarios that they are subjected to, we come to embrace them and their faults. And this translates into the bigger picture: Almodovar’s layered work is about grief and regret, but you would never have thought it could be so life-affirming. This probably explains its encompassing greatness.
Let’s not forget the music by the criminally-underrated Alberto Iglesias, in my opinion one of finest composers working in film in the last twenty years, and his score here is easily one of his most accomplished, an intoxicating blend of sultry jazz performed on piano and saxophone, with lush accompanying strings that hints of a dark unravelling mystery.
All About My Mother is a definitive work of a maturing artist—it is not just funny and profound, but a celebration of life’s ups-and-downs. In its wisdom, the film’s characters show us that life’s ain’t all bad when you know how you want to live it.