All About My Mother (1999)
Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Antonia San Juan, Penélope Cruz, Candela Peña. Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. In Spanish and Catalan, with English subtitles.
This one caught me slightly off guard. Although it’s emotionally overwrought and in some places overdone, there’s a sincerity in the characters and a gentleness of spirit that had me attached to characters I would normally have found barely tolerable. I’m developing a few issues with Pedro Almodóvar, but I keep going back for more of his rather different filmmaking language and his genuine sympathy for his characters.
In All About My Mother, Manuela returns from Madrid to Barcelona, in search of the father of her son. She meets Rosa, a young nun who works in a shelter for battered prostitutes who has problems with her family and her convent, and she is reunited with an old friend, Agrado. Agrado is a transsexual prostitute who’s tough, witty, and sensitive. His affection for Manuela and Rosa, and their affection for him, are the glue holding this film together. Agrado has an amazing scene where he performs an impromptu one-person show for a raucus crowd disappointed at not getting the performance of A Streetcar Named Desire it has paid for, but Agrado’s charm and sense of humor win the house over, and they win the viewer over as well.
Cecila Roth as Manuela is a chin-up, eyes-ahead, Mary-Tyler-Moore-like character, a woman who knows who she is and seems ready to handle whatever the world is ready to throw at her. And the world does its best to beat her into submission. Some of this is difficult to watch, but Roth’s performance is very good. You’d be friends with a woman like Manuela.
As I wrote in my review of Volver, one thing you learn from Spanish films is that love is reason enough. This theme is highlighted here: not only is it reason enough to do the silly, crazy things you do, but it’s reason enough to keep going when the world conspires to stop you. I wouldn’t call this an uplifting movie, but there’s a note of hope that makes me feel pretty good.