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All About My Mother, Todo Sobre Mi Madre, is a 1999 Spanish film which is written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar.

Some viewers may look at this film as two films being melded into one. The first is an intelligent affecting movie about women’s experience of love, companionship and loss while the second is a bizarre, shrill, freakish high-camp operetta whose apparent claim to an ultimate moral and emotional seriousness is ill-founded. [1]

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This film however is an affecting ode to the female spirit, the maternal instinct and the craving for a soulful mix of comedy and tragedy so life-affirming it leaves one hankering for their mother’s embrace. [2]. One thing about the film is that you do not know where to position yourself while watching this film. It can be seen seriously just like the characters or see it as a parody with the bright colors and flashy art decoration to the cheerful homages and references to ‘All About Eve’ and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. [3]

This film presents a world that is filled with terrible sufferings, but one that is beautiful as well as the tears that were shed there is always followed by defiant laughter. Plus, the bright, colorful world the characters live in helps to evoke a sense of wonderful vivacity which enhances the viewer’s experience of the character’s’ joy at times or contrasts it with their sorrow, allowing them to relish such sadness with a certain type of poignancy. [4]

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The starting shows the mother of Esteban, Manuela, performing in a video intended to promote organ transplants at the hospital upon the sons’ request to see what she does at her job. Then, as part of Esteban’s birthday treat, she brings him to watch a play at the Madrid Theatre called ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ This has special associations for Manuela, who as a teenager played Stella in a production opposite Stanley who ultimately became Esteban’s father. [5] After the play, Esteban gets ran over by a car in an attempt to get actress Huma Rojo, who is the main actress of the play’s autograph. This sets up the story as Manuela soon journeys to Barcelona to inform Esteban’s father about his death.

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Back to the scene in which the mother witnesses her son being run over and killed, the following shot shows her standing there in the rain with an umbrella with a great deal of space next to her. The large amount of space on her left represents the now empty space that is left in her life after her son has been killed. [6]

The next scene then shows great irony when Manuela is asked to allow the organs of her son to be used just likes the video she performs in. In Barcelona, which she left pregnant 17 years ago, she meets her best friend, an optimistic transsexual prostitute who calls herself La Agrado, ‘the agreeable one’. The connections between the characters are far too coincidental and unexpected too. Sister Rosa, a nun who works in a shelter for battered prostitutes, is pregnant and HIV positive with what later reveals to be is Esteban’s father’s son. They soon meet Huma, the actress who indirectly caused Manuela’s sons’ death and her girlfriend and co-star Nina.

The film’s men don’t want to meet women half way, they instead want to become them. But these ‘half-women’ are tragic not because they are in between two genders, but because they are convinced, as dictates their patriarchal society, that they can only feel if they take on the form of a woman. [2] This is later revealed when Esteban’s father, Esteban Senior, is brought up by Agrado in a conversation revealing that she accompanied the now Lola to Paris for their twin breast-implant surgeries.

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Later, a scene in A Streetcar Named Desire acted by Huma and Nina was shown. Huma’s character asks ‘Where’s my heart?’ to which Nina’s character replies ‘She means her jewel-box, it’s heart-shaped.’ This dialogue is altered for All About My Mother and differs slightly from the original. The camera then cuts to Manuela watching the actors, closing her eyes in what we infer is pain. The question ‘Where’s my heart?’ is of great significance to Manuela, as earlier in the film she went to Coruna just take a look at the patient who received the heart of her dead son in a transplant operation. [7]

Huma later also tells Manuela ‘Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.’ Which is the identical, word for word line in the play in which Blanche utters. [7]

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Manuela takes care of Sister Rosa and also the baby when she dies in labour. She later gets to meet Lola at Sister Rosa’s funeral and reveals to him that his son Esteban has died and later shows him Sister Rosa’s son who is also named Esteban. The rebirth of ‘Esteban’ then becomes the film’s guiding light, forgetting the friends made and the plays staged, Manuela finally resumes her life and its ‘true’ calling. [8] Only returning several years later to visit Argrado, who is Huma’s personal assistant, and Huma.

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In this film, Manuela is the heroine and its centre but Agrado is the source of life. There is even a scene where she takes an empty stage against a hostile audience and tries to improvise a one-woman show based on the story of her life because the play has been cancelled abruptly. [3]

This is a brilliant film supported with amazing actresses and actors about mothers but mostly women and what they go through at that point of time where the culture was laced with machismo. Despite the fact that the only two heterosexual males in the movie is a boy who dies in the first ten minutes and an old man with Alzheimer’s whose dog takes him for a walk, this isn’t in any sense a gay picture.

Pedro is known for his kaleidoscopic-like, messy and frantic shots and it can be seen in this film.

The whole of the film is a tapestry of female-centric insights and allusions, both coming and tragic. Most visionary is Manuela’s journey through the tunnels which evoke a passage through a vagina canal. Just as Manuela knows where she is going, Pedro knows where we all came from.

This film is dedicated ‘to all actresses who have played actresses, to all women who act, to men who act and become women and to all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother.’ It is also a homage to other works in his film, an example in this case is a scene from John Cassavetes’ Opening Night. His All actors in the movie are also full time performers, so he thanks them who have learned that all of life is performance. [9]

Janet Maslin, a well known film and literary critic for The New York Times has described the film as ‘marvelous’ and a ‘a whole new order of Almodovar extravaganza.’ [10] (MR TAN THERE’S A GLITCH, I CAN’T HYPERLINK IT)

 

References:

1. the Guardian. 1999. All About My Mother. [online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/1999/aug/27/1 [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

2. Slant Magazine. 2013. All About My Mother | Film Review | Slant Magazine. [online] Available at: http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/all-about-my-mother [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

3. Ebert, R. 1999. All About My Mother Movie Review (1999) | Roger Ebert. [online] Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/all-about-my-mother-1999 [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

4. Movierapture.com. 2005. All About My Mother (Todo Sobre mi Madre). [online] Available at: http://www.movierapture.com/allaboutmymother.htm [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

5. the Guardian. 1999. All About My Mother. [online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/1999/aug/29/philipfrench [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

6. scottchumphries. 2010. Cinematography Blog Book: All abuot my mother. [online] Available at: http://scotthumphries90.blogspot.sg/2010/12/all-abuot-my-mother.html [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

7. EmilyBooks. 2010. Almodovar’s ‘All About My Mother’ and Williams’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. [online] Available at: http://emilybooks.wordpress.com/2010/02/04/almodovars-all-about-my-mother-and-williamss-a-streetcar-named-desire/ [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

8. PopMatters. 1999. All About My Mother (1999). [online] Available at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/all-about-my-mother/ [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

9. Joanellis.com. n.d.. ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (An Illusion review by Joan Ellis.). [online] Available at: http://joanellis.com/reviews/ALL_ABOUT_MY_MOTHER.htm [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

10. New York Times. 1999. FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW; Buoyed by the Strangeness of Kinship – New York Times. [online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/09/24/movies/film-festival-review-buoyed-by-the-strangeness-of-kinship.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm [Accessed: 10 Jul 2013].

About the author:

Dion is a moonchild, a ken barbz and a Navy. His favorite color is yellow.

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3 thoughts on “All About My Mother

  1. Hullo Dion~ Your essay is great! Perhaps you can add a little bit on critics’ reviews and the influence that this film had on other filmmakers. “”All About My Mother,” his best film by far, is all about how tragedies of the flesh can yield renewal and hope despite the pain they leave behind, which is as clear an understanding of what makes movies tick as Mr. Almodóvar will ever need. It’s the crossover moment in the career of a born four-hankie storyteller of ever-increasing stature.” – Janet Maslin.

  2. Hello Dion!

    You did a great job in allowing people who read your post to know about what this film is about and the meaning behind the making of such film.

    You also mentioned about there being a lot about women and their spirt in this film, which was good, but i felt you could have better explored Pedro’s style and unique point in his film, linking critics P.O.V to this film. He was actually paying homage to other works in his films (e.g. in this case a scene from John Cassavetes’ Opening Night). His use of bright colours and mid frontal shots in this film could also be mentioned. His kaleidoscopic-like shots could also be mentioned since it is one of his specialty.

    Just some small suggestions to help you improve your essay! Good job Dion 😀

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