Director: Pedro Almodóvar (Spain, France). Year of Release: 2000
A hospital in Madrid. A woman listens as the life support for her husband emits a constant hum. It is not looking good. Medical staff come to comfort her. A female member of staff approaches her with the difficult question. Had her husband ever thought of transplants? The wife suddenly looks excited. You mean that we can transplant someone’s organs into my husband? No, she hears. Actually the reverse.
Manuela is a former actor who now works in medical administration. One of her side jobs is to star in videos used to train people trying to get relatives of the recently dead to allow their vital organs to be donated. A number of medical students have been watching the latest video and are asked, what would you do in this situation?
Manuela is close to her son, Esteban, a budding writer approaching his 17th birthday. She has just bought him Truman Capote’s “Music for Chameleons” for his birthday, and reads him out passages (Note: this is not necessarily recommended for all mother-son relationships). They are going to a Tennessee Williams play together and then when they get back home, she will finally tell him the hidden story about his father.
After the end of the play, they pass by the stage door, and Esteban asks if he can wait to get the autograph of Huma Roja, his favourite actress. Huma gives him the brush off and dives into her car. When the car sets off, Esteban lays chase, determined to get her signature. In his chase, he runs straight into the path of a coming car. The accident is fatal. Suddenly, it’s Manuela who is being asked if she minds donating her son’s vital organs.
I won’t go into the full plot of All About my Mother. You’ve had 20 years to watch it so far, and if you haven’t yet, what have you been doing with your life? But if you want some highlights, there are two trans characters, a lesbian pair and a pregnant nun. There are also a couple of babies, one of which is born with AIDS. This is not a film which is lacking in content.
And yet for all the potentially salacious incident, it is astounding that All About My Mother is not remotely titillating. All credit to the subtle direction of Pedro Almodóvar. Sure there are people with different sexualities in the film, and the odd AIDS baby, but this is never the centre of the plot. Rather than pushing forward LGBT issues as such, Almodóvar prefers to present us with a melodrama in which LGBT people and women happen to be part of.
Added to this is the presentation. There are a LOT of primary, and even secondary, colours in All About my Mother. And some terrible 1970s style wallpaper. It could be drawing attention to itself, to be trivialising the serious melodrama, and yet it isn’t. The feeling that this all could have been filmed in Café Pop in Manchester all just adds to the general aesthetic.
I must admit that my lack of detailed knowledge of All About Eve and the plays of Tennessee Williams means that I probably missed some of the messages in the film, but while this would normally make me annoyed at an élitist film maker only interested in addressing a small coterie of fans who are in the know, I kind of liked the idea that there was something here for people who are prepared to dig deeper. Yes, I’m unduly indulgent of Almodóvar but maybe he’s deserved it.
I’m not an uncritical fan, and although I very much approve of the fact that Almodóvar is out there, his films excite me at different levels. All About my Mother is one of his best – if not the very best. It does not make a single compromise about the sort of world which exists, and we’d like to exist. And yet, most of the structure is simple and even easy to follow.
Ultimately, I feel that a review of this film is futile. You should go and see it (you really should), but whether you think that this was worthwhile depends on much more than a little review which can’t come close to reproducing what you’re going to experience. Go see. You may love the film. You may hate it, but I would hope that you react somehow.