All About My Mother (1999)

Written & Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

An Almodovar film is an experience all its own, and while that experience is unique to each of his films, he certainly has an overriding feel and atmosphere to his films that make them distinctly his. I haven’t delved very deeply into the Spanish master’s filmography, but with the few films I have seen I can see not only why he is held in such high regard by so many, but also how he is able to turn celluloid into explosive cinema. His latest film,The Skin I Live In, is hauntingly brilliant; it left me in awe of his imagination and magic touch with the camera, able to tell the most bizarre film in such an exhilarating and suspenseful fashion. The commonality amongst the Almodovar films I have seen is sex, and his ability to treat it with such casual respect, using it as a centerpiece in his film while not making it too provocative, or presenting it as though it is ever taboo or uncommon should be applauded, even if it is not necessarily for everyone.

Although he has many, All About My Mother is the film most point to as his best, standing above his other stirring works. It is a fascinating exploration into the lives and sacrifices of motherhood, following Manuela (Cecilia Roth) as she copes with her experience as a mother. Meanwhile, she brings former prostitute Agrado (Antonia San Juan) under her wing, along with a nun (Penelope Cruz) struggling with her own maternal issues. The film ends with a message thanking all of the actresses in cinema as well as mothers, including Almodovar’s own. Almodovar has a very unique mind and imagination. This film is not your prototypical love song to a mother, yet in his own twisted way, it is a beautiful testament to the strength and determination of mothers the world over. That is the marvel of Almodovar I suppose, the ability to entertain the audience, keep them on the edge of their seat with a bizarrely drawn plot, all the while infusing the story with such a strong and impactful emotion that one can’t really help but make a connection with its characters, as foreign and different they may be.

And that is exactly what this film does. It goes through these phases, moments in Manuela’s journey that are distinctly different, but which merge together to create a sympathetic portrait of a mother doing the best she can. What is also amazing about this film in particular is the mood and atmosphere created by Almodovar, paying tribute to classic films and stories of the past, weaving them into his own original narrative which has a very soap opera feel to it. But it’s not as though Almodovar is trying to hide the fact that this is a soap opera, he embraces it, and delivers it in such a marvelous cinematic fashion. The actresses explode of the screen, giving wonderfully dramatic performances, mixed in with wonderful small moments of laughter. There is one scene in particular in Manuela’s apartment where all the women share a great laugh that feels so perfect and genuine.

The greatest strength of an Almodovar film remains his script. An impressive feat considering the fact that production design, cinematography and pretty much everything else visual about his films are always outstanding too. He is able to just tell a great story with knockout storytelling. About ten minutes into the film I already knew this would be great; from start to finish the story moves so fluidly. It all starts with Manuela’s son, Esteban, wanting to know about his father he has never known, and it turns out to be the story of his mother, her past, and the love she holds in her heart not only for Esteban, but for so many others. A wonderful experience and an excellent film.

***1/2 – Great

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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