The International Writers Magazine: FilmSpace

Todo Sobre Mi Madre (1999) (All About My Mother)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Eloy Azorin, Cecília Roth, Marisa Paredes
Production Company: El Deseo S.A
Gabriella Davis

A film about mothers is always a film to be watched. It is a universal theme. But in reality, Todo Sobre Mi Madre, by Pedro Almodóvar, seems to actually be more about the fatherly figure than about the motherly one

Released in 1999 by Almodovar’s production company, El Deseo S.A, it is one of those wonderfully Almodovarian films, where every character and scene brings back a slight recollection that one might just have seen this somewhere before, as his films are so strongly based on his private universe.
The plot is based around the story behind the relationship between Manuela, played by Cecilia Roth, and her son, Esteban (played by Eloy Azorin), who dies tragically in a car accident only twenty minutes into the film. This happens on the day of his birthday, after watching a play production of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, by Tenessee Williams. Esteban is fascinated by the play, and the audience learns that so is Manuela, but for other reason. In fact, this is where she met her former husband, Esteban’s father. This brings up the topic of the father, Esteban wants to know more about this man he feels is the other half missing in his life story. The audience learns that Manuela brought up Esteban by herself, and intended on keeping the family unit in such a way.

One will begin to understand the relationship between Manuela and her past is when she starts readng the notes and letters that Esteban leaves behind after his death. It becomes ironic that the film is, in fact, all about the lack of father. The main characteristic of the mother is that she refuses to talk about or even remind herself of the father of her son. In this sense, it is all about the absence of him.
Although the initial reference the film makes is to another film, All About Eve (made by the American director Joseph Mankiewicz) the main reference made throughout the plotline is to ‘Streetcar Named Desire’. There is a constant link throughout the plot between the story of the play and the development of the film. The actresses in the play become important characters for the film, and Manuela becomes more and more emotionally involved with the play, partially in memorium to her deceased son, and partially due to twist of fate.

This seems to be one of Almodovar’s least autobiographical films. Films such as Mala Educacion (Bad Education), La Ley del Deseo (Law of Desire), and Entre Tinieblas (Dark Habits) deal very explicitly with homosexualism and deingration of the Catholic Church, two themes that are very important to Almodovar’s life story. This is not quite as obvious in Todo Sobre Mi Madre, but the Catholic Church and underlying criticism to it is still there, especially in the role of Penélope Cruz’s character, Rosa. The stern eyes of the middle class are cast upon Manuela and Rosa, especially as their friendship becomes greater and they release how much more they actually have in common.

The theme of homosexuality is not directly shown, in the sense that there is no homosexual main character, but indirectly it is quite clear once the plot begins to thicken. After the death of her son, Manuela moves from Madrid to Barcelona, where she is looking for her former husband. Bohemian Barcelona is seen not so much as menacing but in quite a comical sense, and although some of the characters might intimidate at first, Almodóvar reaches out to the audience with a sharp sense of comedy. The underground scene brings the typified characters normally be found in his films, the prositutes, the transsexuals, someone being beat up, someone doing drugs. Theses images are shot with great precision, and even though some of the scenes are so morally absurd, they become quite comical to watch.

The director brings his favorites actresses to life in this film. This a very common characteristic to his productions, and, together with the similiar themes of homosexuality and catholic repression in 1960’s Spain, is one of things which makes Almodovars filmography seem like one longer story divided into smaller parts. In the case of Todo Sobre Mi Madre, the audience sees Penélope Cruz, who has worked with him in Carne Tremula (Live Flesh), and more recently in Volver, as Rosa, an important character for the film. Marisa Paredes plays Huma Rojo, the actress who plays Blanche du Bois in the play, but who also becomes one of most important characters in the film. Marisa Paredes is also a well-known face in Almodovar’s productions, and was first seen in Entre Tinieblas (Dark Habits), in 1983.

Some beautiful photography gives the story an even more emotional intensity. The typical Almodovarian colours, red, yellow, blue, cover the shots in every minor detail, and one of the most memorable images in the film is Cecília Roth standing outside the theatre against the outdoor magnified pôster of Blanche du Bois. The red coat she wears is unbelivably impacting, and, as with most Almodóvar productions, it appeals to an instinctual drive which instantly brings the viewer close to tears. A zooming shot into a man’s chest directed straight at his heart is a stroke of genius, and a good example of the directive camera work in the film. The shots in the park, near the end of the film, are also very well shot and give a dramacity which is perfect for the story.

The choice of ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ as a parallel to the film is ideal. ‘All About My Mother’ is a film which shows a woman avoiding her past and running from it, and ‘Streetcar’ is a play with the same storyline. The viewer does not need to like the play to appreciate the film, nor does he/she need to be familiar with Pedro Almodóvar and his style of film making. These two traits merely make it even more interesting to watch. The film is so filled with sweet displays of friendship and loyalty contrasted with the aggressiveness of the Barcelona underground scene that it is impossible not to enjoy.
© Gabriella Davis November 22nd 2006

Gabriella is a final year Creative Arts student at the University of Portsmouth
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