This is a part of my Pedro Almodovar Marathon.
I honestly didn’t know I could plan this better. With the weekend past being mother’s day and this month’s upcoming Blindspot (still preparing to watch) being All About Eve this film was somewhat perfectly placed to buffer between all these things.
Manuela (Cecilia Roth) is the single mother of a film/art obsessed teenager, Esteban (Eloy Azorin), who on his 17th birthday when attempting to get a famous actress’ autograph after seeing her in a play is run over by a car and dies. This event prompts Manuela to leave Madrid and return to Barcelona to see her now deceased son’s father and confront the life she left behind eighteen years prior.
During that first chapter where we’re introduced to Manuela and her son it kind of sets up the film perfectly. More than believing this is a story of Manuela dealing with the grief of losing her son I see it as a fantasy concocted by her son as he claims he wants to write a story about her. Esteban looking longingly at his mother who he loves deeply and continually scribbles notes into his book, watching All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire, as well as seeing her ‘perform’ in a simulated conversation at her work — as a nurse at a transplant hospital — with a pair of doctors practicing asking the bereaving to give consent to allowing their loved ones who’ve just past to donate their organs for transplants.
As the film progresses from it’s opening scenes and takes Manuela to Barcelona we find her embroiled in a fight in a prostituted area, meeting with a nun, becoming assistant to a famous actress (and eventually perform an stage next to her), and play a surrogate mother to many other wayward souls in this world. Remembering the mystic glances that we see Esteban look at his mother with it makes sense that he would write a story where she’s basically the hero to everyone we meet.
This film is the realistic kind of fantastical that with each element being grounded in reality the fact that all these things happen to one person over such a short period of time it compounds itself in unbelievable nature and coincidence that it’s hard to not allow the possibility of fantasy to enter the discussion.
With the direct references to Bette Davis in All About Eve (and with the film titled All About My Mother; obvious connections) and A Streetcar Named Desire we see multiple instances of femininity rising above all outside forces. Even with the connection with Gena Rowlands in Opening Night, with the scene of Esteban trying to get Huma’s (Marisa Paredes) autograph outside the theatre the film wants to highlight the notion of these strong female archetypes. We have the prostitute who’s not afraid to admit her nature, the woman who’s become pregnant and wants to see it through regardless of the social boundaries she expects to meet, the actress who’s having career trouble and her friend being the drug addict, added to that the woman who’s lost her child; these are all stories told through the film and through the varying characters presented, the great part about this is that none of them every feel overbearing. Almodovar isn’t afraid to take that mixture of insane and let them stew for a while in small scenes where they can admit to one another that things aren’t great but still enjoy the moment (i.e. the drinking/ice-cream moment).