All About My Mother is the thirteenth feature film by Pedro Almodovar, who in 1999 receives the prize for direction at Cannes and the Oscar for best foreign film. It is a multifaceted film, paying many tributes to the movies (All about Eve by Mankiewicz), to theater (A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams), to literature (Truman Capote, Federico Garcia Lorca).
Portrait of a film: Manuela, a single mother, accidentally loses her 17 year old son and starts searching for the father of the child. The latter, Esteban, lives as a transvestite prostitute in Barcelona, and he has never seen his son. In Barcelona, Manuela finds Esteban, dying of AIDS, and revives for a while her former existence as an actress.
The film offers a gallery of women portraits: Manuela, Huma, Rosa, Agrado, Nina. Five women – nurse, actresses, transvestite prostitute, nun – are facing alone life and its attendant tragedies: the death of a son, drugs, AIDS. Some of the filmmaker’s favorite actresses embody these characters, namely Marisa Paredes, Penelope Cruz and Cecilia Roth. However there is no major male role in this film, in which the world seems to belong to women, facing men that are missing, inconsistent or have bluntly decided to change their gender.
Portrait of an Era:
All About My Mother takes place in the new Spain of the 90’s: sexual liberation and cultural explosion have transformed within two decades the oldest European dictatorship into a ultramodern country, where, after the “movida” years in Madrid, Barcelona became at the turn of the millennium the coolest city in Europe. But Barcelona has its dark side: the fashionable metropolis is also the capital of drugs, prostitution, and AIDS. Sister Rosa (Penelope Cruz) dedicates her ministry to help the prostitutes, former actors have turned to cross-dressing and prostitution. And the carnage of AIDS is at its height. The film (and the filmmaker) embraces the transgender ideas, in vogue since the late 80’s: for him, in every man lies a woman, sex is not just a matter of biology. And the film offers in watermark a new view of the family, no longer based on genetic links, but on elective affinities.
Portrait of a filmmaker:
When he creates All About My Mother, Pedro Almodovar is 50 years old. Born in 1949 in a small village of La Mancha, he lands in Madrid at 18, without qualifications and without a penny, with one thing on his mind: making films. He lives on odd jobs and then works for twelve years at the telephone company Telefonica, he sings in a punk band and makes photo-novels and short underground films before directing his first feature film in 1980, Pepi, Luci, Bom and other girls like mom. A rather prolific filmmaker, he encounters success quickly and becomes, from one film to another, an emblematic figure of the “movida” of Madrid, this societal and cultural avant-garde movement that characterizes the new Spain of the 80’s. A master of bad taste and of the mix of genres: big fan of melodramas and intricate plots, Pedro Almodovar films according to a particular aesthetic: multicultural, neo-baroque, both popular and avant-garde, kitsch and intellectual.