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NYFF REVIEW: Almodovar's Colorful and Irreverent "Mother" is a Powerful and Rewarding Drama

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire September 24, 1999 at 2:0AM

NYFF REVIEW: Almodovar's Colorful and Irreverent "Mother" is a Powerful and Rewarding Drama
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NYFF REVIEW: Almodovar's Colorful and Irreverent "Mother" is a Powerful and Rewarding Drama

by Stephen Garrett




Continuing and enriching the more seriously dramatic career arc that
began with 1995's "The Flower of My Secret" and 1997's "Live Flesh,"
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar delivers once again with "All About My
Mother
" (Todo sobre mi madre), a subtly powerful and emotionally
rewarding story of a woman who loses her teenage son and finds new life
in the remnants of her past.


The masterly handling of each of the five principal actresses again
illustrates Almodovar's brilliance as a director of women, and his
original screenplay deftly downplays its potential for melodramatic
hyperbole while punctuating his special brand of "Almodrama" with the
trademark irreverence (a chummy world of transsexuals, whores, nuns, and
drug addicts) that so defined his earlier films. The movie's CinemaScope
aspect ratio rightly showcases cinematographer Affonso Beato, who also
shot "Flower" and "Flesh" for Almodovar; and the director's insistence
on bold, vibrant colors in the production design is, as always, a
delight.


Dedicated at the end to women like Romy Schneider and Bette Davis (whose
"All About Eve" is the loving inspiration for the film's title),
"Mother" explores the shattered world of Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a
single parent in Madrid whose 17-year old son Esteban is hit by a car on
the night of his birthday, just after seeing a performance of "A
Streetcar Named Desire
" and trying to get an autograph of the play's
middle-aged diva Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes). Haunted by the event,
Manuela seeks closure by returning to Barcelona, where years before she
became pregnant with Esteban, to look for her son's father, a
transsexual named Lola who doesn't know about the child they shared.


Her first stop in Barcelona is an outdoor cruising site where she used
to turn tricks as a street walker. There, she connects with her old
friend Agrado (Antonia San Juan), a transsexual hooker with a heart of
gold looking for a change of profession. While job hunting, the pair
meet Sister Rosa (Penelope Cruz), an angel-faced nun who broke her vow
of chastity with (coincidentally) Lola, and now is not only pregnant but
also has AIDS. Manuela also becomes distracted by the arrival of the
"Streetcar" production to Barcelona, and she watches the play again --
doubly resonant for her, not only because of Esteban, but also since she
was an actress in her youth and performed in the play as well.


After the show ends, Manuela goes backstage and accidentally meets, then
befriends, Huma, who herself is an emotional mess because of her lesbian
love affair with Nina, a fellow actress in the troupe who is also a
heroin junkie ("she wants drugs and I want her," moans Huma in a moment
of melancholy). Huma hires Manuela to be her assistant, and Manuela
settles into her life in Barcelona as well as her search for Lola.


The quintet make for an unlikely support group, but like most
dysfunctional families, the ladies become an emotional salve for each
other despite their disparate life choices; and the ultimate meeting
between Manuela and Lola, as well as her disclosure about their son,
makes for poignant filmmaking that in lesser hands would have become
easily maudlin and risible. As a deeply felt, witty, and surprisingly
complex tribute to the Hollywood and South American melodramas of the
past and as a handsome addition to the mature work of his own career,
Almodovar's "Mother" is a sweet, stirring accomplishment.