Toronto
2 min

All about she

Spanish master hits his stride

MI MADRE. Penélope Cruz and Cecilia Roth star in Pedro Almodóvar's wonderful new film, All About My Mother. Credit: Xtra files

Perhaps the most pleasing thing about Pedro Almodovar is that he is one of few directors about whom we can believe the hype. The work of so many masters is wildly anticipated, but so often seems to fall flat. Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Bored Shut is the most recent disappointment that comes to mind.



All About My Mother, Almodóvar’s latest offering, is teeming with the director’s usual talent – his profoundly bemused take on human relations, his expertise in wending his way through a challenging, enjoyable story, his knack for capturing visual beauty, his love of hysteria.



But this film is rather more muted than past work. While it introduces us to the expected set of zany characters, their adventures are less madcap than they are reflective. The result is an experience more sobering than amusing. This film will stay with you longer than, say, Law Of Desire, because it touches a spot much deeper inside.



The story revolves around Manuela (Cecilia Roth), whose young son dies early in the film. Shortly after this tragedy, Manuela returns home to Barcelona to find her son’s father. It is during this search that Almodsvar introduces us to his band of characters. As is often the case, most of them are women; the rest are moving in that general direction. All of them are strong, if not powerful; they’re all endearing and they’re all nuts.



Particularly amusing for a queer audience is the manner in which Almodóvar riffs gently on two great camp classics – All About Eve (hence the film’s title, in case you didn’t’t catch it) and A Streetcar Named Desire.



Along with its name, All About Eve lends the film a bit of plot structure: Manuela takes the job of personal assistant to an actress starring in A Streetcar Named Desire. One night, when another actress cannot perform, Manuela stands in for her, and the audience goes wild. Almodóvar is careful to keep this bit light – it’s actually more fun to see him work it into the plot than to know which other work he’s quoting.



One of the most moving themes of the film explodes, as it were, from that most famously camp of all lines from A Streetcar Named Desire: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” The kindness of strangers pervades this film, from families donating their dead loved ones’ organs for transplants to nuns taking hookers home to get them off the street.



Almodóvar’s work is always must-see, and All About My Mother is no exception. What is exceptional is the new depth and breadth of emotion that the director manages to express. It’s pure pleasure to watch this talent mature.



All About My Mother, in Spanish with English subtitles, opens Fri, Nov 26 at the Cumberland and the Hyland.