Thursday, November 10, 2011

All About My Mother (Pedro Almodovar)

Cecilia Roth as Manuela.

With the brilliant "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" being the Pedro Almodovar film I've watched prior to this, his exploration of the unparalleled emotional strength of women, at least in my self-chronology, continues on with "All About My Mother", a film that lightly caresses your heart with its poignancy but also puts into humorous situations after another the subtle absurdity of life. Although it's Almodovar's witty screenplay that is the film's beating heart, it's the sheer talent of its cast that has fueled it with pure and unbridled energy.

Performances by Cecilia Roth, who played the main character Manuela, a single-parent hardened by the terrible highs and lows of life, Marisa Paredes as the stage actress Huma Rojo, Penelope Cruz who contrasts all the other performances with her subdued turn as Sister Rosa, and especially Antonia San Juan's colorful portrayal of the character Agrado (the best performance in the film), a person whose socially unacceptable transsexualism never hindered her from being an optimistic representation of a hard-living modern woman, sweeten the screen with a unique vigor for life.

The film's title, "All About My Mother", when you look at how the narrative has unveiled itself, does not fully suggest that the film is indeed purely about Manuela's individual exploits as she searches on to locate her son's father and as she takes care of numerous colorful characters. With the use of the possessive pronoun 'My', which of course pertains to Manuela's son Esteban, who before dying in a tragic car accident wishes to know who his father is and who, after death, may have continued to look down upon her mother as she copes up with his death, with her quest and with life itself, it suggests that the story is spiritually progressing through Esteban's birthright to know his father. So the film, in essence, does not merely get its life force from Manuela alone, but also from the memory of Esteban's final wish.

"All About My Mother" is, in context, a humanist adventure fueled by a two-sided notion for a tribute: One given by the already omniscient Esteban in an underlying manner, who flowers up her mother's endeavors by means of his prose taken from his diary, and one by Manuela herself as she tries to keep the fire burning in Esteban's torch of memory by way of fulfilling his dying wish: To find his father.

Unlike the later "Goodbye, Lenin!", a film from which we rarely see the character of the mother but infinitely more of her son as he desperately find ways to fend off any shock or surprises that may worsen her health, "All About My Mother" views this idea of a parent-child relationship in an opposite way by championing the concept of a mother's love to her son (instead of the other way around), but in an equally unconditional light.

In the film's entirety, its urgency is more inclined towards the dramatic rather than the comic. Of course, the spontaneity of the more humorous moments adds to the film's effective tonal shifts from colorful to gray and vice versa, but "All About My Mother" is infinitely more important to be absorbed as a drama that articulates the emotional context of promises, mistakes and reconciliations rather than as a comedy of blunders, innuendos and homosexuality. Nonetheless, the film works in either way.

But what has slightly put me off about the film, on the other hand, is its running time. Pedro Almodovar greeted our senses with exuberant, highly original characters yet ends the film with suddenness. It's one thing for a film to end and for us to want more, but to ask for more plainly because something lacks is another. I don't know what I've felt between the two when the film has ended, but I surely would have loved the film more if it would have been a bit longer, and I don't care if the conflict is already resolved. Well, on second thought, maybe it's just delusion.


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