Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999

"Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother)"

by Richard Schwartz

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In his first attempt at moving toward drama after a career built on over-the-top comedies, Spain's Pedro Almodovar has delivered a pleasant success. "All About My Mother" strikes a fine and effective balance between melodrama and madcap.

The picture tells the story of a Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a mother mourning the loss of her beloved teenage son after a tragic auto accident. She travels to Barcelona to alert the son's estranged father, who had disappeared long ago and never even knew he had a child in the first place. Things get complicated, however, when we learn that the father, Lola, is a drug-addicted, womanizing transvestite who has disappeared once again. Moreover, Manuela soon befriends a naive nun, who, as it turns out, is also carrying Lola's lovechild. To call this plotline offbeat is an understatement, but the story is suprisingly easy-to-navigate and equally engaging.

In addition, allusions to great moments in American popular culture are sprinkled, or rather doused, throughout: "A Streetcar Named Desire," Truman Capote 's novels and Bette Davis' "All About Eve," from which this film's title evolved. Performances by the nearly all-female cast, most of them Almodovar regulars, are stellar, including a hilarious turn by Antonia San Juan as Agrado, a transvestite prostitute friend of Manuela. As well, the film heralds the discovery of gorgeous Penelope Cruz (as the nun). That, alone, is achievement.

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