You’ve got to admire Pedro Almodóvar. There’s nothing quite like his signature cinematic vision in Spanish cinema or in any film landscape in the world. He is, essentially, the Spanish apotheosis when you combine David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock and George Cukor, albeit on kinky boots and sipping a perverse cocktail. High camp, high melodrama, dark humour and a sensuous visual style, all of these are prevalent in almost any Almodóvar work, almost as recognisable as any world landmark. And in this critically-acclaimed effort All About My Mother, he does not only provide all his signature ticks but he gives what seem to be sorely lacking in many of his films – a great, big heart. Here, Almodóvar achieves a higher degree of sophistication, crafting a film of subtle nuance and purpose, dedicating this to actresses and mothers, as the title refers to.
While still maintaining liberalism in form (he brews a dazzling concoction of melodrama, tragedy, soap-opera, farce and pitch-black humour, throwing in queer-folk cultural references, with transsexuals, transvestites and other sexual ambiguity in typical Almodóvar fashion), My Mother is perhaps the most linear in narrative context in the Almodóvar oeuvre, eschewing reliance on flashbacks common to many of his films. We are drawn to the story right away, as Manuela embarks on a quest to find the exiled father of his own son, who was killed on an accident after chasing famous Huma, an actress playing Blanche DuBois in a Spanish stage revival of A Sreetcar Named Desire. InMy Mother, the past isn’t much shown but rather very deeply ensconced in the present, the flaws of the past ever influencing every strand of this rich, interwoven stories of human fallibility and human resilience.
You may laugh at its savage campness sometimes, but My Mother brims with a remarkable sense of compassion, humanity and heart that you’ll never find yourself laughing at Manuela’s loss of her son, Huma’s tempestuous relationship with a lesbian junkie, Rosa’s impregnated nun or at Lola’s condition, the father of Esteban and Rosa’s child, now a transvestite and bearer of HIV virus. Even the film’s most humorous scene, La Agrado’s one-woman, show-stealing romp, improvising in front of an audience on how she ended up as an operated woman, we never laugh at her. We laugh with her. It’s an accomplishment of deeply felt characterisation, creating very flawed human individuals yet never drench them with self-pity. Instead, these bunch of characters are testaments to human staunchness, and it’s one of Almodóvar many fine talents, to let his audience reserve their judgements and to listen and understand these characters and their lives.
At the heart of All About My Mother is, after all, a celebration of solidarity between women, femininity and most importantly, motherhood. Almodóvar deliberately reconstructs scenes from All About Eve, and pays homage to Bette Davis, Gena Rowlands, Romy Schneider, to actresses, to women who act, and to mothers, whilst disposing the male species as maladroit creatures. To a degree, there is sarcasm to its representation, portraying men here as either men who dress like women or men who want some blowjob during intermissions. Nevertheless, Almodóvar emerges with dignity and a genuine compassion towards the fortitude of mothers and their legacies.
Impressively crafted, handsomely acted (especially by Roth) and emotionally satisfying,Almodóvar’s All About My Mother assumes a zenith in the auteur’s fascinating oeuvre. Above all, this is a heartfelt paean to motherhood and human resilience.