Blu-ray Review: All About My Mother | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, September 23rd, 2021  

All About My Mother

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Mar 02, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

All About My Mother is a film about the flexibility of human nature — the flexibility of gender, the flexibility of family and the flexibility of love. People are elastic, adaptive, and complex: they deserve to be free to define their own lives outside the boxes imposed by others.

Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s celebration of womanhood in every form — both those who were assigned female at birth and those who were not — is told through an exuberant use of color. The oranges, reds and contrasting blues, especially, are daring and complement the heightened sense of drama. Who could doubt that a world this colorful would contain characters who are too?

The 1999 film earned him an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and elevated him to big international stage that he has not relinquished in the subsequent 20-odd years. His latest film, Pain and Glory, earned a nomination in the renamed category this year.

His breakthrough is a melodrama without the pejorative baggage the term carriers, and without the implied thinness of characterization. The women are extravagantly and fantastically written, as each face personal trauma with resolve and bravery. The sheer number of social issues addressed on screen — AIDS, drugs, death, betrayal, and discrimination, among others — could induce fatigue or disbelief, even as Almodóvar based the characters on women he met in person, or read about in tabloids, he says in Criterion’s new Blu-ray release special features. Taken together, it’s a lot — a kitchen sink approach to drama where every fate is existential and every relationship is pushed to the edge. But Almodóvar tells the story with such love, acceptance, energy and skill that contrivances are easily forgiven.

The film opens in Madrid with a single mother, Manuela (Cecilia Roth), and her precocious teenage son Esteban (Eloy Azorín). They are close, and for his birthday they attend a theatrical production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Following the play, Esteban is struck and killed by a car when he runs into traffic seeking an autograph from the play’s co-stars. Devastated, Manuela leaves her job as a nurse and travels to Barcelona looking for her son’s estranged father, Lola (Toni Cantó). Manuela reconnects with an old friend, a transgender sex worker, Agrado (Antonia San Juan), who was mutual friends with Lola. Agrado, in turn, introducers Manuela to a young nun named Rosa (Penélope Cruz) who works in a shelter for abused sex workers. Manuela learns that Rosa has become pregnant and contracted AIDS from one of the workers she cares for.

Manuela also connects with the two stage actors who are now performing the play in Barcelona: Huma (Marisa Paredes) – who is in love with her heroin-addicted costar, Nina (Candela Peña). Manuela becomes Huma’s assistant and acts in the play when Nina is too sick to perform.

Manuela, Agrado, Rosa and Huma form an improvised family. Manuela tends to Rosa’s difficult pregnancy, and finds meaning in her own life again by dedicating herself to others.

Almodóvar gives a voice to characters who are often underrepresented on screen, and has a gift for making the exceptional relatable. All About My Mother is beloved for its deep cast of well-rounded women showing up for each other in times of need, and bonding over what they have in common, which is considerably more than what they don’t. There are moments in the film when new friends perhaps act too much like old friends. A slower, longer film may have allowed for this to develop more naturally, but it also would have drained the film’s manic visual energy and momentum. And, indeed, people bond quickly in trying times. The characters in All About My Mother find each other in times of need, vulnerability and trauma, and built a support structure than society has failed to provide. As Almodóvar says in one interview, “A family is a nucleus of love, and the nucleus is flexible.”

Follow Ed McMenamin on twitter at @edmcmenamin



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