All About My Mother

All About My Mother ★★★★

After a terrible accident, grieving mother Manuela (Cecilia Roth) travels to Barcelona to find her son’s father, forming connections along the way, in Pedro Almodóvar‘s comedy-drama co-starring Marisa Paredes, Penélope Cruz, Antonia San Juan and Candela Peña.

This is my first Almodóvar, and I’m fascinated by the way he’s able to blend melodrama and sincerity together so seamlessly, letting the story be playful without ever losing its impact. He’s able to take what on paper seem to be quite contrived or cliched tropes and imbue them with a conviction that makes them work together, whilst still drawing attention to the heightened, which is difficult balancing act to pull off.

The film is incredibly stylish, with the ornate interiors acting as a mirror for the emotions of the characters, which adds a whole other dimension to the story and gives everything a vibrancy that matches the characters. Roth is amazing in the centre of it all, balancing a complex mix of emotions in a wonderfully nuanced way, as Manuela rebuilds her life, purging her inner demons through acting both as a maternal figure to Cruz’s character and on stage, where she can cathartically confront her emotions.

Repeated references to A Streetcar Named Desire and All About Eve foreground the theatrical influence, as the stage becomes a way the characters bond and confront their pasts. The film is a real showcase for the amazing actresses in the cast, who each give layered, touching performances that bring the story to life, with Cruz incredibly moving as the young nun whose life is upended.

A key theme seems to be that of identity, as each woman experiences a change either willingly or not which has a profound impact on them, showing how gender and status aren’t necessarily set in place. This comes across especially in the portrayal of transgender sex worker Agrado, who is refreshingly shown to be comfortable in herself, Almodóvar showing that identity is what you make of it.

While humour is threaded through the story, it’s never at the expense of the characters, who are treated with empathy and understanding, which gives the film a lot of warmth. Some of the story threads don’t quite combine, though, and there are moments that aren’t as effective, getting a little too over the top, but I was really drawn into what was happening on screen.

It took a little while to get used to Almodóvar‘s particular style, but I was really absorbed by All About My Mother’s warmth and ability to balance lots of different elements without sacrificing emotion at the heart of it all.

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