Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother)

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Cecilia Roth, Penélope Cruz, Marisa Paredes, Antonia San Juan, Eloy Azorín.
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality including strong sexual dialogue, language and some drug content.

Review by Matt Heffernan
December 26, 1999

The great majority of foreign-language films that are released in America are in French. Two of this year's Golden Globe nominees in that category are from France, and The Red Violin was made by a French-Canadian. The only Spanish-language entertainment most people see are stupid game shows and soap operas (not to mention the soccer announcer who shouts "Gooooooal!"). At least we have Pedro Almodóvar to remind us that there is somebody in Spain making a positive contribution to the art of film.

In Madrid, Manuela (Cecilia Roth) and her son Esteban (Eloy Azorín) attend a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire, a play to which Manuela has a great attachment. She tells her son that she met his father when she played Stella opposite his Stanley Kowalski. After the show, Esteban tries to get the autograph of Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes), who just played Blanche Dubois. He runs after her cab, but is struck by another car and dies. Manuela decides to go back to Barcelona and start her life over.

Now we see that Manuela has a little trouble with the truth. Her past in Barcelona and the story of Esteban's father is clouded. She finds an old friend there: a transsexual prostitute who calls himself/herself "La Agrado" (Antonia San Juan). Agrado introduces Manuela to Sister Rosa (Penélope Cruz), a nun who helps prostitutes look for legitimate work. Instead of working for Rosa's mother (Rosa Maria Sardŕ), Manuela gets a job as Huma Rojo's personal assistant while Streetcar is playing in Barcelona. This job gets harder to do when Rosa moves in with Manuela because of health problems.

One thing is certain for the films of 1999: their premises are getting harder to describe. Almodóvar weaves a masterful story around these women, and several other characters. He takes on a highly unconventional story and makes it work with warth and humor; I'm really quite amazed that he was able to pull it off. His screenplay is also very well written, but I don't think any other director could have filmed it.

Even under these circumstances, Roth seems very comfortable in this role. There is a large ensemble of supporting roles, but she has to carry this film. Manuela considers herself an actor, and she is always putting on some sort of character off stage, so Roth has to come up with a very layered performance. She does, and stands out among many actresses this year. If the Academy can award Roberto Benigni for Life Is Beautiful, they could certainly find a nomination for her.

Well, it all depends on how Americans respond to this film. What surprises me is that Streetcar is popular in Spain. I must say it was odd to see it performed in Spanish, since it such an inherently American play. There were also a lot of references to All About Eve, which shows that American art is appreciated in Spain. Let's hope that we can return the favor.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Todo sobre mi madre (1999)

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All About My Mother (1999) -- VHS (English subtitles)
All About My Mother (1999) -- DVD Home
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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan