All About My Mother (1999)

4/5

Todo Sobre Mi Madre


Spain; Pedro Almodovar


Parental Guidance – Sexual Innuendo


Young Esteban lives with his mother, Manuela (Cecilia Roth), and aspires to become a writer. The two are a close-knit family, but Esteban resents, deep within, the absence of a father. When he tragically dies in a car accident, Manuela returns to Barcelona, the city of her youth, in quest of the boy’s father.  He is the man she ran away from more than 17 years ago, but now she is too desperate even to dread what lies ahead. But what lies ahead is an exhilarating and wild foray into a parallel, distorted and lurid reality, where the grieving mother rediscovers the power of friendship and love, while tracing her partner, now a… mysterious woman called Lola.

No one explores the elusive, chaotic world of the outcasts in a more sensual, garish and yet empathic manner than Pedro Almodovar. This world, invisible for many, is right next to us, loud, flamboyant and shameless but also wary, insular, hidden from the scrutinizing eyes of the uninitiated. Almodovar, who is no more a dilettante, delves into his subject matter with a contagious sensuality that borders exhilaration at times. The story unfolds at a luxuriously unhurried pace, more concerned with its characters than with uncoiling any of the conventional narrative springs. The plot is compacted, converted to nothing more than an empty mold; a rigid and somewhat conventional frame that is then filled with a vivid, intoxicating wealth of sensations, sentiments and emotions.

Visually as well as thematically, Almodovar’s touch is a splatter of brash primary color. The first part, charting the brutal end of a beautiful mother-son love bonding that was evolving into cross-generation complicity, is pure melodrama. This bout, though graced with occasional tender, heartfelt moments, is awkwardly told and directed. The lives of “normal” people seem to inhibit the Spanish enfant terrible. However, Cecilia Roth stands out of this mess, her vibrant femininity softened, but also heightened by her filial love.

Then the ensemble takes off, and Almodovar, with heartfelt gusto, exposes the soft underbelly of the underground world as well as its barbed carapace. It drifts in and out of the realm of realism, with a Grand Guigniol-esque lack of restraints, but it’s a moviegoing experience that is in equal parts stingingly funny and genuinely affecting.   

A vibrant, if sometimes too idiosyncratic, tribute to womanhood in all its forms – tender, careful, provocative, overwhelming – All About my Mother is the work of a director who has matured, but never grown up.

 

All about my mother poster   All about my mother

 

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