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Manuela is a hard-working single mom who has raised her son Esteban by herself since the time he was born. On his 17th birthday they go to the theater and after the show, Esteban tries to get the main actress' autograph but is run down on the street and dies. Manuela is beside herself with grief and decides to return to Barcelona to tell the boy's transgender mother Lola, about the death of the son she never knew he had. She is nowhere to be found but Manuela does find an old friend, Agrado and meets up with a pregnant nun, Rosa. Together they form a life and become fast friends - until tragedy strikes again.Written by
One thing is for certain: you sure can't accuse Pedro Almodovar's `All About My Mother' of narrative timidity. In its relatively brief 102-minute running time, it provides a literal smorgasbord of sensational plot elements: a fatal car accident, a dead teenaged son, organ transplantation, transvestite prostitutes, lesbianism, pregnant nuns, drug addiction, AIDS, Alzheimer's, and death by childbirth more than enough juicy elements to warm the heart of any lover of classic melodrama or daytime soap operas. Even if the film had dealt with only half of these issues, it would still be a challenge to maintain some sort of overall focus. As it is, we spend most of the movie staring in head-scratching amazement at the sheer audacity of the enterprise.
Certainly, the critics have not been stingy in heaping effusive praise on the work and both the Motion Picture Academy and the Foreign Press Golden Globe committee have echoed that praise by bestowing on the film their coveted awards for Best Foreign Language Film of 1999. But does the film really merit all these critical hosannas and kudos? Not by a long shot! Jaded as we may be by the deadening predictability and lack of originality that, sadly, define the majority of films released each year, it is, nevertheless, still incumbent upon us not to be bowled over by a film that takes the alternate path of undisciplined bizarreness. `All About My Mother' cries desperately to be a moving and important study of women's roles in society, but, by trying to compress so many of the eccentricities of life into one story, the film leaves us more incredulous and perplexed than stimulated and touched.
One element does succeed brilliantly, however, and that is the outstanding performance of Cecilia Roth in the leading role of Manuela, an attractive 38-year old mother who, upon the sudden death of her child, is compelled to return to the dark past she long ago fled and to seek some sort of redemption. She provides us with the warm center of human compassion this film so desperately needs to keep it from becoming a completely clinical exercise in absurdity. Streamlined perhaps, her story might have made for a fascinating and incisive film. But Almodovar is so busy loading up his film with rather obviously drawn parallels that we really never believe a minute of it. The film is rife with ineffectual and pretentious allusions to `All About Eve' and `A Streetcar Named Desire,' as the movie characters' lives take vaguely similar paths to those of the characters found in those works. And the finale, in which Manuela's maternal affections find a new object to latch on to, seems coy and artificial an attempt to leave the audience on an emotional high after all the misery and heartbreak it has witnessed in the course of the film. The whole enterprise, ultimately, seems hopelessly artificial.
That artificiality at least justifies the gorgeous look of the film. Almodovar has, as always, splashed across the screen his usual array of brightly colored walls, furniture and clothing that makes the film seem to exist in a world located somewhere between realism and surrealism. This bold visual palette is always one of the joyous fringe benefits that accompanies the watching of an Almodovar film.
Unfortunately, in this case at least, he hasn't created a film with a story, cast of characters or theme to match in quality or intensity the glorious, many-hued background he provides. Despite all its many awards and its extraordinary critical acclaim, `All About My Mother' doesn't hold a candle to Almodovar's truly wonderful previous film, `Live Flesh.' Check that one out instead and see the difference.
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