All About My Mother

The portrait of a lady.

THE GIANT FACE of an actress on a billboard makes for a gorgeous, significant shot early in Pedro Almod�’s new film. From afar, you can tell she’s blonde and wears red lipstick. But close up, as a character passes by, all you see are dots of color—like TV pixels or a Roy Lichtenstein painting. Similarly, All About My Mother contains colorful characters who change their hair dye, attire, even gender, so that—when pieced together—their various personae form a dramatically lit, larger-than-life homage to Woman.


written and directed by Pedro Almod�

runs December 22—January 20 at Egyptian

After her son’s death in a car accident, Manuela (Cecilia Roth) travels from Madrid to Barcelona in search of his transsexual father. There she meets Agrado, a transsexual prostitute who introduces her to the core circle of women that befriends her and provides the heart of this film. Among them are Rosa, an HIV-positive nun who eventually moves in with Manuela, and Huma, the weathered lesbian actress whose refusal to autograph Manuela’s son’s notebook inadvertently caused his death. Surrounding this hub is yet another ring of women, including: Nina, Huma’s junkie actress lover; Rosa’s fretting mother; and classic icons like Blanche and Stella from A Streetcar Named Desire and Bette Davis. Orbiting beyond both circles—distant, insensitive, and oftentimes invisible—are men.

Almod�’s women are survivors. They all suffer; most are compassionate; and they always forge ahead with their lives. Although her son has just died, Manuela, a nurse, cares for a sick, pregnant Rosa and her baby. Badly beaten by a john and spit on by society, Agrado never forsakes her promise to be agreeable to others (hence her name). Yet beyond its vivid portrayals of survivorship and martyrdom, Mother is still lacking.

Almod�’s infamous, fun ’80s flicks like Matador and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown were heavy on absurdity and camp. His more recent films—my own favorites—like The Flower of My Secret and Live Flesh, have been slightly more serious soap operas. Yet the ultimately unsatisfying All About My Mother is heavy on the serious side, light on plot, with only a few classic Almod� signature scenes thrown into the fray. (Agrado’s hilarious monologue to a theaterful of people on the price of her fake tits and nose is a welcome high point.) Instead of a tightly wrapped package of character motivation, conflict, and conclusion, we’re left with an unrealistic, idealized portrait of Woman, like a Vogue glamour shot or a statue of the Virgin Mary—more tribute than triumph.