All About My Mother
(Todo Sobre mi Madre) (1999)
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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After her son is hit by a car and killed on his seventeenth birthday, Manuela (Cecilia Roth) makes her way back to Barcelona, where she had previously lived with the boy's father. There she comes into contact with a number of quirky individuals, including a transsexual male prostitute, a pregnant nun, and a lesbian actress.

Although I cannot honestly say that Pedro Almodóvar demonstrates any great originality in his All About My Mother, he has, nonetheless, crafted a bright, fascinating, and genuinely affecting film.

The complex story Almodóvar unfolds over the course of his movie includes, as is almost always the case in the director's works, a number of odd twists and surprises. While this narrative is, admittedly, frequently melodramatic and overwrought, it is also so lovingly crafted and so suffused with both a gentle humor and a genuine affection for its characters that the viewer cannot help but submerge himself in the lurid soap opera that is being presented to him. Instead of dismissing the convoluted plot as forced or hackneyed, he is fascinated and touched by it. Truthfully, Almodóvar displays, yet again, that unique talent he has for transforming some wildly overdone melodrama into a genuinely subtle and evocative tale.


The director quickly submerges the viewer in Manuela's world and in the various relationships that develop between her and the women she encounters in Barcelona. Having so been enthralled by these persons, all of whom live life with a real intensity, the viewer is almost certain to find himself profoundly touched by their affecting humanity. He is able to engage with their sorrows, their disappointments, and their feelings of rage and betrayal. He sees the harshness of human relationships, how the contact of one person with another is often warped into something malignant by exploitative deceit or manipulation, but he is also given a chance to witness all the joys that are to be found amid such pain. The film presents a world that is infused with terrible suffering, but one that is beautiful as well, as the tears shed there are always followed by defiant laughter.


In fact, life's hardships and delights are made manifest to the viewer not only by the movie's characters, but also by the physical universe in which they live. All About My Mother blossoms with all the brilliant colors, lavish backdrops, and lovely images with which Almodóvar usually fills his films, and it is, as a result, consistently a pleasure simply to see. Furthermore, the bright, colorful world the film's characters inhabit helps to evoke a sense of wonderful vivacity which, at different times, either enhances the viewer's experience of the characters' joys or, by contrasting with their sorrows, allows him to relish such sadness with a particular poignancy.


Almodóvar does not, however, deserve sole credit for raising the quality of the story told in All About My Mother above that of the average television soap opera and giving it such an enchanting sense of joyous sorrow. The members of the movie's cast all acquit themselves marvelously. I cannot even single out one or two of the leads for praise. Every one of them excels. Even a number of the minor roles are given such life by the actors that the viewer really is able to involve himself in their existences and feel touched by their experiences .

While All About My Mother is not, by any means, a masterpiece, it is always a charming, affecting, and lovely movie that is certainly worth watching.

Review by Keith Allen

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