PRINT November 1999


Pedro Almodóvar

DEDICATED “TO ALL ACTRESSES who have played actresses, to all women who act, to men who act and become women, to all people who want to be mothers,” and last but not least, to his own mom, Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother, which opened the New York Film Festival in September, is a gender- and genre-bending tale of grief and renewal. The thirteenth film by the director of such previous international hits as Dark Habits (1983), Matador (1986), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), and most recently Live Flesh (1997), All About My Mother walks the fine line between melodrama and farce, blending these warring genres with such finesse that it won Almodóvar the Best Director nod at Cannes last May.

All About My Mother, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on November 19, is the story of Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a thirty-something mother—and organ-transplant counselor—in Madrid whose life comes to a screeching halt when her beloved teenage son, an aspiring writer desperate to know his deadbeat dad’s identity, is killed in an automobile accident as she looks on. Numbed by grief, Manuela sets out for Barcelona to find her son’s father, a transvestite now dying of AIDS, to inform him of the death of the child he never knew he had. Through a series of preposterous plot twists that are Almodóvar’s signature, fate transpires to keep Manuela a mother, even when she least wants to be. In her quest to reconnect with her son’s father, she takes a trio of colorful misfits under her wing: a long-lost friend, the transvestite prostitute La Agrado (Antonia San Juan), whose gender disagreement extends even to her name; Sister Rosa, a fallen young nun (Penélope Cruz); and Huma Rojo, a needy actress (Marisa Peredes) starring in a Spanish production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Barcelona itself takes a bow as supporting actress.

Ever since The Flower of My Secret (1995), Almodóvar has been struggling to negotiate a détente between the dramatic and comic tensions that have long fought for dominance in his films. With All About My Mother, he has fashioned a melodrama worthy of Douglas Sirk, in which emotional sympathy for and generosity toward his characters closes the ironic distance previously ascendant in the Spaniard’s work. For anyone interested in family values, Pedro Almodóvar offers a broadened vision, where biology matters but nothing counts more than the comfort of strangers.

Laura Winters