Sunday, July 17, 2016

Before I Die #571*: All About My Mother (1999)

This is the 571st movie I've watched of the 1,177 films on the "Before You Die" list that I'm gradually working my way through. *After another edit, I realized that Mad Max was actually the 570th movie that I'd seen. It's tough keeping up with all of these...

Original Spanish Title: Todo sobre mi madre

Director: Pedro Almodovar

This is the second of esteemed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's movie I've seen, with the first being Talk to Her. While I found that later movie bursting with film-making skill, I found one key part of the story rather difficult to stomach. All About My Mother, while certainly challenging certain notions about gender identity and relationships, was far easier to enjoy.

Since I feel that the magic of a movie such as this depends upon the its unexpected narrative turns, I will avoid too much detail, despite the film being 17 years old. The story focuses on Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a nurse who endures a major life tragedy and finds herself leaving Madrid and returning to Barcelona, where she hopes to find her estranged and irresponsible ex-husband, while also being drawn to a theater troop who had an unwitting hand in her trauma. Manuela finds herself reconnecting with old acquaintances and befriending new and singular strangers as she copes with her grief. The people around her include a transgender prostitute, an aged lesbian actress in a troubled relationship with her young and drug-addicted co-star, a pregnant nun, and several other colorful characters. A more dynamic set of figures would be difficult to find, and what makes them fascinating goes well beyond the ways which they fall outside of mainstream ideas of identity.

Although there is a deep tragedy at the heart of the story, the general tone is relatively light-hearted and even a tad zany at times. The characters, while acting and speaking in ways which come to feel quite natural for each them, are often unpredictably funny and amusingly singular. Anyone who has spent a little time around artists can understand the extemporaneous and dramatic actions of several characters in the film, and when several of them share scenes together, the energy is palpable.

Nearly every scene bursts with color and careful arrangement, not unlike what
you might see in a Cohen brothers or Wes Anderson film.
While not one of his earliest films, All About My Mother was clearly one made on a relatively limited budget. Despite this, the visuals are stunning. The costumes and set designs are distinctive and vibrant, and the cinematography is masterful. These are traits which are even more obvious in the later Talk to Her, but I was drawn in by what seems to be an Almodovar staple of highly attractive visual style.

I don't know that All About My Mother is exactly for everyone. Those who like clear, logical storylines which follow traditional patterns regarding love and loss are bound to be confused at best and frustrated at worst. For my part, I found the movie to have its own clear, if quirky, sense of logic, to go along with its genuine heart and humor. I would gladly watch this one again, and I am now looking forward to watching more of Almodovar's films.

So that's now 571 films down; only 606 to go before I can die.