26 October 2010

Review: "Todo sobre mi madre"

Pedro Almodóvar's Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother) won the 1999 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was his most successful international film since Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) (1989). It is also his first film to feature Penélope Cruz in a principal role, following her appearance in 1997's Carne trémula (Live Flesh). As with most of Almódovar's films, Todo sobre mi madre deals with many controversial themes. Almodóvar has made a career using controversial themes to express his ideas. While dealing heavily with AIDS and transvestism, it is a film that celebrates women. He has a very accepting and gentle approach in all his films and I have always been able to easily empathize with his characters. The film may be considered a melodrama but with Almódovar's classic pacing and vibrant imagery Todo sobre mi madre is a richly satisfying film with several incredible performances, led by the brilliant Cecilia Roth. It is at times very depressing at heartbreaking, but Todo sobre mi madre is a beautiful film about love and redemption.

Manuela (Roth) is an organ transplant nurse in Madrid. She is a single mother to Esteban (Eloy Azorin), an aspiring writer. On his seventeenth birthday they attend a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire. Esteban is hit by a vehicle and killed while chasing after Huma Rojo (Marisa Parades), the star of the show. Manuela had never told Esteban about his father and his death causes her to return to Barcelona to look for the boy's father, a transvestite named Lola. In Barcelona she reunited with Agrado (Antonia San Juan), a transsexual prostitute, who introduces her to Rosa (Cruz), a young nun who works in a shelter. Manuela is shocked to discover that Rosa was impregnated by Lola and that she is suffering from AIDS. Manuela also becomes involved with Huma, whose production of A Streetcar Named Desire has come to Barcelona, and her drug-addicted co-star Nina Cruz (Candela Peña).

As writer and director Pedro Almodóvar has such control over his film that the intense emotions and themes never get out of hand. Manuela is the main character but it is Agrado who straddles the line between melodrama and comedy. Antonia San Juan is a transsexual and this brings a sense of realism to the film. She shines in one of the film's brightest moments when Agrado stands on stage during a canceled performance of A Streetcar Named Desire and details the exorbitant amount of money required to have her body. The actresses in Todo sobre mi madre are exceptional and are all deserving of recognition. I wish that Cecilia Roth could find more international success in starring roles because I was mesmerized by her performance. At the very end of the film Almodóvar dedicates the film "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." It is a beautiful tribute to an emotionally satisfying film.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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