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Pedro Almodóvar’s “All About My Mother (Todo sobre mi madre)”

Pedro Almodóvar’s work is famous for depicting strong women, gays, transsexuals, prostitutes, drug addicts and people on society’s margins. Pablo Allen Haker takes a look at some of the films by this internationally acclaimed Spanish filmmaker. This is part 2 of Pablo’s series, The Almodóvar Project.

All About My Mother | Sony Pictures Classics (1999)

Winner of both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for “Best Foreign Language Film,” this movie about transformation in various forms transformed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s career forever — and introduced Penélope Cruz to a worldwide audience.

1999’s All About My Mother might seem simple on page. A bereaved mother returns to Barcelona after the death of her son to find his father (a transsexual), and to find herself a place in the world. But the movie is deeper than it appears and leaves a lasting memory in the viewer’s mind.

For fans of All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire, the film will leave even more of an image, as it relies heavily on these two classic films to tell the tale.

Manuela (Cecilia Roth) works training doctors how to deliver bad news to their patients in a way that allows for them to get organ transplants. She has a son, Esteban, who just turned 17. To celebrate his birthday, after watching All About Eve at home the night before, they go to a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire in Madrid. After the show, Esteban (Eloy Azorín) waits outside in the pouring rain for an autograph from his favourite actress, the star of the show, Huma Roja (Marisa Paredes). While running after her car, he is struck by a taxi and killed.

After following his transplanted heart to A Coruña, Manuela decides to return to Barcelona where she once lived in order to tell Esteban’s dad, who now lives as Lola, an HIV+ woman, about their son’s death. While looking in the seedy outskirts of Barcelona, she meets up with her old friend Agrado (Antonia San Juan), another transgender person. As the two look for jobs, they meet a pregnant nun, Rosa (Penélope Cruz), wanting to save the world. Rosa’s baby’s father happens to be Lola. Got that so far?  (Yeah, this is typical Almodóvar style.)

Almodovar_AllAboutMyMother2Manuela ends up becoming personal assistant to Huma Roja (her dead son’s favourite actress), and the four women (Manuela, Agrado, Rosa and Huma) embark on a friendship. When tragedy strikes again, Manuela finally meets up with Lola and deals with the past, present and future.

All About My Mother is a movie about transplants and transformations — literally and figuratively. Almodóvar makes a stunning transplant from Madrid to Barcelona in one of his most memorable scenes (check out the YouTube link at the end of the entry after the Almodóvar checklist and Spanish translation), showing off the beautiful city — and proving he can make a film outside of Madrid. He immediately ditches the touristic Barcelona (Sagrada Familia, the statue of Christopher Columbus) for the seedy Barcelona most tourists will never see, the fields of the junkies and prostitutes.

It’s also about being authentic. Agrado gives a passionate speech about being authentic, and it becomes another recurrent theme in the film.

The film is dedicated to women, actresses and mothers. It is perhaps his strongest woman film and definitely his best melodrama. The theme of friendship and women overcoming the worst obstacles present in the majority of his films is strongest here.

The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2000, and a Golden Globe the same year.

Rating: A

Almodóvar Checklist:

Chicas Almodóvar:  Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Penélope Cruz
Antonio Banderas: No.
Poisoned Gazpacho: No
Madrid: Sí
Galicia: Sí. I’m not sure WHY Galicia starts appearing in all his films, but this film starts the Galicia fixation when the transplanted heart goes to A Coruña.
Drugs: Sí.
Musical Sequence: No, but a ton of theatre scenes.
Men Too Gay To Function: No, but some lesbians (Huma Roja and her bisexual girlfriend Nina). And I think Esteban was probably gay.
Transvestites: Yes, and transsexuals and transgendered…this movie is very trans.
Furniture Ikea Could Never Market: Oh yeah baby. Gotta love Cecilia’s Barcelona flat.

Surreal rape scene: Attempted rape of Agrado.
Meta Slow Camera Pan To Show How Much He Really Loves Cinema: Sí
Mirror Scene: Reflection of la Sagrada Familia in the taxi window. Later, with Huma Roja in the dressing room. Most of the dressing scene rooms have reflecting scenes.
Dress from Lady Gaga’s rejected pile: Sí. Seriously, no wonder Rosa’s mother thought Manuela was a prostitute.
Aspect of Spanish Culture Turned On Its Head: The trans community shines in this film from 1999. Also, Spanish IS spoken in Barcelona! Almodóvar can make films outside Madrid!
Catholic Church As Bad Guy: Nope. Nun Rosa is shown as a saint.
Taxi: Sí.
His mother: No, but it can be seen as a dedication to his mother.
Reference to earlier film: Manuela (different actress) appeared in La flor de mi secreto.
Odd Advertisement: Dancing babies.


Una película sobre transformación en sus varias formas se transformó la carrera del director español Pedro Almodóvar para siempre y se presentó al mundo Penélope Cruz. La película se lo transformó a un ganador de Oscar. 

A primera vista, Todo sobre mi madre (1999)  puede parecer simple. Una madre desconsolada vuelve a Barcelona después de la muerte de su hijo para buscar el padre (una transexual) y encontrarse a sí misma y su lugar en el mundo. La peli es más profunda que parece y deja una imagén en la mente del espectador.  

Para aficionados de Eva Desnuda y Un tranvía llamado Deseo, la película se les dará una imagen más profunda, como se usa estas películas para contar la historia. 

Manuela (Cecila Roth) trabaja con los médicos para que puedan informar a sus pacientes sobre los transplantes de órganos. Tiene un hijo, Esteban (Eloy Azorín), que acaba de cumplir 17 años. Para celebrar su cumpleaños, después de ver Eva desnuda en casa la noche anterior, van a ver  Un tranvía llamado Deseo en Madrid. Después de la obra de teatro, Esteban espera fuera el teatro en la diluvia para conseguir un autográfo de su actriz favorita, la estrella de la obra de teatro, Huma Roja (Marisa Paredes). Cuando persigue su coche, un coche le atropella y se muere. 

Manuela persigue el corazón de Esteban que va a ser transplantado a A Coruña antes de decedir volver a Barcelona para informarle al padre de Esteban, quien ahora es serapositivo y vive como mujer, Lola. Cuando está buscándole en las afueras sórdidas de Barcelona, se cruza con su amiga Agrado (Antonia San Juan), otra persona transgénero quien era la amiga de Manuela antes de Manuela se marchó de Barcelona. Durante sus busquedas por trabajo, conocen una monja embarazada, Rosa (Penélope Cruz), quien quiere salvar el mundo. El padre del bebe es Lola. ¿Entendido?

Manuela acaba como el asistente personal de Huma Roja, y las cuatro mujeres (Manuela, Agrado, Rosa y Huma) empiezan una amistad. Cuando pasa otra tragedia, Manuela por fin encuentra a Lola y resuelva sus problemas con el pasado, presente y futuro. 

Todo sobre mi madre es una película sobre transplantes (literales y figurativos) y transformaciones. Almodóvar se transplanta desde Madrid a Barcelona en uno de sus escenas más memorables (hay un link de la escena de YouTube a final de esta critica) que muestra la ciudad preciosa y que puede hacer un film fuera de Madrid. Inmediatamente se deja atrás la Barcelona turistica (Sagrada Famila, la estatua de Cristobál Colón) para los campos sórdidos fuera de Barcelona que la mayoria de los turistas nunca van a ver, la Barcelona de los yonkis y prostitutas. 

También se trata de ser auténtico. Agrado da un discurso apasionado de ser auténtica, y la autenticidad es otro tema recurrente en la película. 

La película es dedicada a mujeres, actrices y madres. Quizá sea su mejor película de mujeres y es, sin duda, su mejor melodrama. Los temas de amistad entre mujeres y las mujeres superando todos los obstáculos que vemos en la mayoria de sus películas nunca es más fuerte que en este film.

Todo sobre mi madre ganó el Oscar por Mejor Película Extranjera. 


This piece first appeared on Pablo’s


Haker-PabloPAUL ALLEN HAKER, Pablo to his friends, is a thirtysomething English teacher and writer who lives in Bilbao in the Basque Country in northern Spain. Constantly searching for deeper meaning in life, Pablo spends most of his money on travelling and learning languages (he speaks English, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, and is currently trying his hand at Basque). When he’s not teaching, at the gym, travelling or watching films, he can be found working on his novel or reading at a café.  Keep up with his travels and writing at

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