The Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar once engrossed the viewers with his offbeat views (and sometimes kinky) of relationships and sex. Flamboyant transvestites, aging divas, pregnant nuns, soccer moms and other woman on their own are all enlarged or filtered through Almodovar's variety show. "All About My Mother" (1999) is his most thought-provoking drama, where the off-beat characters are not just used as vehicles for comedy. The movie takes a profound empathy towards those characters and aspires to both farce and high melodrama.
Manuela (Cecilia Roth) is a nurse and single mother, who is in her late 30's. Manuela is emotionally dependent on her teenage son, Esteban (Eloy Azorin). Esteban celebrates his 17th birthday and wishes that his mother would tell the story of his father, whom he has never met. She promises Esteban to tell about him later, and they go for a theater visit to see “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Outside the theater he runs into the street to get the autograph of an actress, and is tragically killed by a passing car as Manuela looks on.
Manuela arranges Esteban's heart to be transplanted. Devastated by the accident, she goes in search of the boy's father to Barcelona (from Madrid). The search of a vanished husband brings her across an old pal, La Agrado (Antonia San Juan), who is now a transvestite prostitute. She also meets a beautiful pregnant nun (Penelope Cruz) who is going into hiding, an actress who sleeps with her junkie female assistant and a painter who forges Chagalls. There is death, disease and pain just around the corner and all of them have some kind of emotional burden to bear.
Early in the movie, we see Manuela and Esteban watching the movie "All About Eve" on TV, referencing that "All About My Mother" is completely a different take off from that movie's theme. "All About Eve" was about female-against-female connivance. Here, the movie shows Woman as divine carer. As the world-weary woman, Cecilia Roth inhabits the center of this great drama. She carries the film with her weighty and captivating sympathy. Penelope Cruz -- veterans of Almodovar's works -- is extremely likable and also unexpectedly earthy as the pregnant nun. Antonia San Juan is the comic spirit of the movie. Apart from the campy antics, she also has some sentimental attitudes. Marisa Paredes as the actress Huma Rojo brings a mixture of world weariness and toughness to her part.
Writer-director Almodovar always display a remarkable understanding of the female psyche and always cast sublime actresses to lend his characters even more authenticity. There is the usual excessiveness, histrionics and bizarre characteristics of individuals, but in this movie Almodovar only concentrates on their humanity rather than developing them as caricatures. Even though the themes are predominantly dark, a genuinely witty script doesn't make the film as depressing as it could have been. From a visual standpoint, the movie looks terrific. Almodovar's usual trademarks of bright and glossy colors are all arranged in interesting patterns. The arty camerawork works very well in the sequence of Esteban's accident, from his point of view, and in showcasing a Barcelona slum at night.
"All About My Mother" is an exquisitely constructed drama, which is rich in compassion, complexity and humor.
All About My Mother (Todo sobre mi madre) -- IMDb
"All About My Mother" won Academy Award for "Best Foreign Film"