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With: Cecilia Roth, Penelope Cruz, Marisa Paredes, Candela Peña, Antonia San Juan
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality including strong sexual dialogue, language and some drug content
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Running Time: 101
Date: 04/07/1999

All About My Mother (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Mom Aplomb

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

While many filmmakers today are content to copy Hitchcock (see The Talented Mr. Ripley for the latest example), Spain's Pedro Almodovar is the heir apparent to Douglas Sirk. And with All About My Mother, he has made the near equivalent to Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956), a weepie movie with a brainy sensibility, an open heart, and a wicked sense of humor.

Almodovar's screenplay is brilliant simplicity. Following Manuela (Cecilia Roth) after the death of her beloved 18-year-old son, we enter effortlessly into a world of theater, drag queens, and nuns. The key here is "effortlessly." Almodovar creates a soap opera atmosphere with lots of twists and turns that feels completely comfortable. We hang on every word and gesture without once questioning the logic of the thing, or getting the feeling that we've been here before. For once I had no idea what was going to happen next, and it was gratifying.

Almodovar is more than just a good storyteller, though. Like Sirk, he's a filmmaker concerned with the frame, the colors in it (especially those bright reds), and where characters are placed in connection to one another. There is never a wrong move. Coming back from the doctor with a pregnant nun (Penelope Cruz), Manuela stops to tell her that she can't babysit for her and that eventually she will have to face up to her problem. Almodovar frames the shot extremely wide with a huge, bright picture window in the background, making our characters appear as silhouettes: dramatic darkness. But the joke is in the next shot when the nun moves in with Manuela anyway.

Another reason to treasure Almodovar is his gift for writing women's parts. There are only three men in All About My Mother, and two of them are very small parts. The third is Manuela's son (played by Eloy Azorin), a delicate angel of a boy who helps illustrate Manuela's mother role. Indeed, Manuela's open arms are the key to the warmth of this film. Any moviegoer will be lucky to buy a ticket to All About My Mother and allow themselves to be swept away. It's a great achievement and one of the best movies of the year.

Note: All About My Mother won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

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