“To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother,” reads Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar Caballero’s dedication at the end credits of his 1999 film All About My Mother. Starring Cecilia Roth, Penélope Cruz, Marisa Paredes and Antonia San Juan, Almodóvar’s film about the lives of women at the margins of society won the award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2000 at the Academy Awards.
Manuela (Cecilia Roth) is a single mother who works as a nurse at a hospital overseeing organ donations. After she loses her son on his seventeenth birthday to an accident, Manuela quits her job and traces her way back to Barcelona in search of his process. In the streets of La Sagrada Familia, she forges a friendship with Hermana Rosa (Penélope Cruz), a pregnant HIV-positive nun, and reunites with Agrado (Antonia San Juan), a transwoman in the sex trade; during her stay, she also opens her house to Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes), an acclaimed actor, and builds a family with the social rejects.
All About My Mother (Spanish)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar Caballero
Cast: Cecilia Roth, Penélope Cruz, Marisa Paredes, Antonia San Juan
Runtime: 101 minutes
Storyline: Pedro Almodovar’s Oscar-winning comedy-drama is about a bereaved mother, an overwrought actress, her jealous lover, and a pregnant nun.
All About My Mother or Todo Sobre Mi Madre welcomes you into a women’s world where they play the parts of a mother, daughter, actor, nurse, nun and sex worker while trying to keep their sense of self intact. Their acting often off the stage sets the stage for the topics Almodóvar chases after — from a powerful monologue by Agrado on the idea of being an authentic woman to Hermana Rosa’s concessions with herself and the church he charts the troughs and cliffs a woman traverses through during her lifetime.
The movie is a cinematic ode to the women on screen. Through its narration, it blurs the lines between real life and the stage. His references to theatrical and cinematic masterpieces like A Streetcar Named Desire bring meaning to the effort.
In an age where mass media has largely viewed the HIV/AIDS epidemic through the eyes of a queer male, the Spanish director lends his lens to the wombs of women and their partners who silently bear the brunt of the disease.
However, it is the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the film that set the tone for the rest of the one-and-a-half hours. Esteban who does not know his father’s identity wrestles with his share of problems, while Manuela has her secrets to hide. The duo have great love for one another but the audience can sense a palpable tension on the screen during their interactions — in one instance, Esteban asks his mother if she would sell her body to provide for him.
It is moments like these that highlight Almodóvar’s ability to translate a psychodynamic relationship onto the screen with ease. Her travel back to Barcelona not only relieves her and the audience of the tension but allows us to see the Manuela who’s hidden behind the mask of a mother and a dutiful nurse.
Through the fables of the women at the margins, the Spanish director snatches the conventional idea of motherhood and maternity and twists it to suit his characters and their needs.
All About My Mother is currently streaming on MUBI