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copyright ©1999-2001

flick pick | All About My Mother [Todo sobre mi madre] 1999
Directed + written by: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Candela Peña, Antonio San Juan, Penelope Cruz, Rosa Maria Sarda
Language: Spanish [with English subtitles]
Look for it at the video store under:
foreign [Spain]
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:
artsy-fartsy, serious
The verdict: ½/ 5 the rating system explained

Plot synopsis On the evening of his 17th birthday, single mother Manuela takes her only son Esteban, an aspiring writer, to a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire. Afterwards, as she waits with him in the rain because he wants to ask the star for an autograph, Esteban tells her that what he nearly asked her for as a birthday present, the thing he wanted most, was to know about his father. Manuela sighs and says she’ll tell him when they get home. Tragically she never gets her chance – when the actress and her lover get in a taxi without stopping to sign Esteban’s notebook, he chases them down the street and is killed by an oncoming car. Heartbroken, Manuela leaves Madrid and head towards Barcelona, the city that she fled seventeen years ago when she found out she was pregnant. As she searches for the father of her son, she meets up with her old friend Agrado, a flamboyant transsexual prostitute. Agrado introduces her to a beautiful, pregnant young nun named Sister Rosa who tries, without luck, to help Manuela find work. Manuela ends up stumbling across a job all on her own when she gets hired as a personal assistant to Huma, the very actress whose autograph Esteban had been seeking when he had his accident (the theatre company is now performing in Barcelona). Soon Manuela finds herself playing mother to a makeshift family that includes the older Huma -- who may be brilliant onstage but is a mess at real life -- Huma’s junkie lover, flaky Agrado, and a bedridden Sister Rosa.

Review Pedro Almodovar has always filled his movie universes with unconventional characters living on the fringes of society – whores and transvestites, rapists and lesbian nuns, drug addicts and criminals – and in that sense, All About My Mother certainly fits his usual mold. But All About My Mother is also worlds away from earlier Almodovar films like Kika and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, in that beneath the outrageous exteriors of these characters costumes and lives, their emotions and desires are so completely normal. Manuela struggles to cope with losing her only son, Agrado just wants to be beautiful, Rosa loves her mom but can’t communicate with her, and Huma adores a young junkie actress whose addiction leaves her too self-absorbed to love Huma back. The women of this movie feel quite real, their conversations about love and loss and womanhood so natural, that you find yourself very much identifying with each of them. They’re smart, they’re funny, they’re strong and sad and loving and amazingly resilient. Their big tragedies and little triumphs are incredibly moving, but in a good way, not in a Hollywood-manipulative, let’s-appeal-to-the-chick-crowd sort of manner. The film may be subtitled and boast a gorgeous, artsy-fartsy, sumptuous look, but like the classic women’s pictures to which the film frequently alludes, All About My Mother is essentially a heartfelt melodrama of the very best kind. —reviewed by Y. Sun 

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