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All About My Mother / Todo Sobre Mi Madre (1999)  

Country: Spain
Director: Pedro Almodovar

Cecilia Roth - Manuela
Marisa Paredes - Huma Rojo
Candela Peña - Nina
Antonia San Juan - Agrado
Penélope Cruz - Sister Rosa
Toni Cantó - Lola
Eloy Azorín - Esteban
Carlos Lozano (I) - Mario

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This is the most popular of all Almodovar's movies that I can remember, which is not only due to its typical quirky script and plot, but also, I think, to its accessibility. Compared with the more extreme sex farce of "Kika", an earlier Almodovar film, this is positively tame. The surrealism has been toned down, creating characters that are more grounded in reality, making it easier to relate and empathise with them. Indeed, must have been said of warmth and humanness of the cast, most of who are women.

Manuela's son, Esteban, dies after he gets run over by a car while chasing the taxi in which his favourite actress was riding. She decides to find his father in Barcelona, and in typical Almodovar fashion, meets up with some pretty interesting and out-there characters. Some of the women she meets used to be men, hurt and battered, but always quick to come back with a joke or a witticism, sailing through life with all sails unfurled even in the wildest storms. The energy and motivations of the characters are sometimes a little obscure to me, but then again I expect that from Almodovar and actually, I think its part of the pleasure of watching his work. One thing I like about his films too is his no-holds-barred approach to sex, for example, where love, loss and shag are given in equal parts by all and sundry, regardless of gender or sexuality. It's a little disappointing for me that he has toned down his quirkiness though, since I've always found his outlandish scenarios refreshing, even if I don't pretend to understand them. Still, can't be too bad if it snagged him an Oscar…

Much has been made of Almodovar's realistic and loving portrayal of women in this film. Certainly in the earlier scenes, Almodovar makes a point of referring to the strength a woman as a mother or a lover has for those she cares for. One thing he hasn't toned down is the vibrancy and energy of his characters, from Manuela's strength of purpose to the ribald humour of her transsexual friend, Nina. It does take on soap-opera quality in the last part of the film, but by then it the emotions are so high as to make it inevitable and pretty much necessary, as we are carried along by the rhythm and tone of the direction (there's something about the Spanish language that lends itself well to acts of breathless enthusiasm). I may prefer the old Almodovar material but in the end, I think this film still deserves the accolades it received. Supremely acted, nicely envisioned and enough of the Almodovar magic to still keep it interesting.

Eden Law

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