"That's a nice-a donut."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

All About My Mother (1999)

All About My Mother is a pretty typical Pedro Almodovar film. That is to say, it is yet another Almodovar film that contains a number of bizarre, strange, and weird characters intertwined in fascinating stories and situations. It is another Almodovar film that is rich in vibrant colors and elaborately and carefully designed sets and backgrounds. In short, the Spanish-language movie is a textbook example of an "art house film" but is also very accessible if you give it a chance.

In the story, a single mother named Manuela (Cecilia Roth) witnesses her teenage son get hit by a car on his birthday in a fatal accident. His death is crippling to Manuela and, perhaps even more so because she had just promised to finally tell him about his father (whom she left while still pregnant). As a result, she leaves her job and heads out of town to Barcelona to find his father and tell him about the son he never knew about. But before she finds him, she runs into an old friend, Agrado (Antonia San Juan), a preop transsexual, and befriends a pregnant nun named Rosa (Penelope Cruz). She also becomes a personal assistant to an actress (Marisa Paredes) that her son admired. Together these women try to get through their lives and each experience significant transformations along the way. There are several explicit references and comparisons to All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire, and several parallels to each with regards to desire, disappointment, love, hate, and friendship.

As Almodovar has proven before, he is incredibly competent at creating movies filled with depth, particularly with well-developed (and well-acted) characters. Manuela is a strong lead character, but Agrado is perhaps the most complex and compelling, and she makes a commendable transformation throughout the course of the film.

All About My Mother is close to being an excellent movie, as it is near-flawless from a technical standpoint. But in the end it never quite convinced me of its purpose or true meaning, other than to tell an emotional story about some interesting people. Though it would be nice to see more normal, everyday people in his stories - Manuela is probably the closest to it, and even she has plenty of issues and skeletons in her closet. The narrative also loses steam a bit near the very end, as it jumps ahead in time too many times in order to finish telling the story, and crosses a tad too much into melodramatic territory. It's worth it though, if simply for the humorous (and heartfelt) dedication at the end.

The Verdict: B+.


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