Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Blind Spot Series 2015: All About My Mother

I still can't believe that it's 2015, but OMG, it's already near the end of January!  This means it's time to post my Blind Spot entry for the month, which happens to be Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother.

Let's just get on with it!



It took me a while to get into Pedro Almodovar’s films.  They have a very distinct tonal quality to them.  That whole ‘glorified Telenovela’ thing can be, for the lack of a better word, awkward to watch.  Sometimes these tones can make his films feel like a really glossy Soap Opera, and I’ve never been one to embrace that form of storytelling.  But, his status and reputation within the cinematic community always had me sure that I should attempt to get more acquainted with his work, to try a little harder. 

It’s funny how when you start to explore something you aren’t initially comfortable with, you start to discover nuances and details and tidbits of merit that help grow your appreciation for it, despite your initial reservations.  I’ve noticed this in myself many times when it comes to film.  When I first started exploring film as more than just a medium of immediate entertainment, I was urged to explore foreign cinema, which to me only existed (at that point) in laughable Kung-Fu movies and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’.  The idea of subtitles just didn’t appeal to me at all and so I had no real interest in digging in, and yet I did and I found this whole new world.  My preconceived notions that lead to initial observations were soon dismissed for a real appreciation.  For instance, I initially considered Asian cinema loud, obnoxious and overtly theatrical (granted, some of it is), but the more I saw, the more I found such rich texture and such variations of tone I took for granted initially.

So, the same can be said for Almodovar.

So far, I’d only seen six of his films, ‘All About My Mother’ being my seventh.  Like I said, he can be a bit much to take at first, but as these six films rest in my mind they help build a real tapestry of appreciation for his gifts as a filmmaker and the sheer originality and unwavering vision within his work.  Almodovar loves color, flamboyancy, drama and women, and he uses them all in such distinct and vibrant ways.  While I don’t always react to his films with unabashed delight, I do get a little giddy now when I watch one of his films, for I know what to expect and I know what to look for.


I really liked ‘All About My Mother’.  This is one of those film that I have felt, for a long time, that I needed to watch, mainly because so many tout it as one of Almodovar’s finest films, lauding it in a year that is lauded as one of the greatest cinematic years (the greatest, by many) since 1939; 1999.  The fact that I had sought out some of his more obscure titles and yet hadn’t found the time to see this one was a shame on my part, but I’ve finally rectified that.  Anchored by a truly inspired ensemble, Almodovar’s black comedy of sorts covers so many characters and so many sub-plots and so many hidden agendas that keeping up can be exhausting, but the finished product is so splendidly delivered that I can’t help but smile when thinking about it.  Whether we’re lamenting alongside Manuela as she grieves the loss of her son, or we’re secretly judging Huma and her oddly distracting relationship with the troubled Nina, or we’re rooting for Rosa and her desperate situation or trying to figure Agrado out, we are constantly IN this movie, which is something so refreshing.

I can’t say that I loved this movie, but I will say that it never let me stop watching; and I didn’t want to.


Some of Almodovar’s flagrant touches don’t come off as smooth as in other films, and I have to say that I’ve always somewhat preferred him when he reigns it in, just a little, but his attention to character detail is just unreal.  He creates such lived in worlds for his actresses, all of them so full and ripe regardless of their actual place within the plot.  Even Agrado, who is far from a main character, has her moment and her completeness which all makes her feel so whole and real.  You understand these women because Almodovar understands these women, and that love for his characters (even the troubled, hurtful ones) shows up so well in these films.  In fact, his finest films, that I’ve seen, are the ones where he allows women to take center stage.  Throw a man in, and things start to get murky.


Roth is outstanding; such a powerfully layered performance, and Marisa Paredes and Penelope Cruz are also just wonderful.

There is a lot going on here, and it doesn’t always mesh as cleanly as I would have liked it too (just edit a little bit), but overall, ‘All About My Mother’ is a beautiful dissection of these women, what makes them tick, what makes them whole and what unites them.

22 comments:

  1. Beautiful review, I like how you talked about what foreign cinema was to you at first. That made me laugh.

    I've never seen any of Almodovar's films. Maybe that's another director I'll try to get to know once I finish going through Berman's filmography.

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    1. LOL, I was such a dumb teenager, but at least I was a teenager, so it's sort of understandable...sort of. It's funny, because I LOVE foreign cinema now. My wife hate it because our DVR is 90% foreign stuff and she won't watch them.

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    2. How is your Bergman exploration going!?!?!

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  2. You beat me to this one, I'll have to move it up in my queue before I read your review. I'm not by and large a foreign film viewer. Previously I had too be drawn in by something specific, acclaim-La Vie en Rose, reputation-Diabolique or a certain performer-Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata but I've been trying to see a bit more recently. I suppose acclaim/reputation are still requisites since I don't watch randomly.

    For instance I've tried to watch all the nominated best actress performances that are available so those in a foreign language have lead me to their films. Sometimes that's good, The Shop on Main Street or Central Station, and sometimes not, Cousin, Cousine did nothing for me. But that's been the case with several of the English language films I've watched as well. I've also been trying to sample a least a couple of films by the various directors considered masters. I've liked everything of Clouzot so far but Bergman is more variable-loved Wild Strawberries but the others I've seen, Cries and Whispers, The Seventh Seal, Autumn Sonata etc., have had things I admired, the acting is almost always great, but I can't say I've been swept away by them.

    Anyway I'm looking forward to giving this a watch and seeing if our reactions are similar.

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    1. I love foreign film. In fact, I've said on the blog many times that French film in particular is the very best cinema in the world. Now, I know that is all subjective, but if you take a gander at my Fisti Awards (which I'll be reposting after Oscar), you'll see that almost all of my Best Picture ballots contain at least one Foreign film, and a lot of times a foreign film wins.

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  3. I found All About My Mother had a stronger impact for me than some of Almodovar's other films, though I've only seen four so I still have a long way to go. It's Roth's performance that really sold it for me.

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    1. Her performance was perfection. I think some of the stray sub-plots could have been tightened just a bit for me to LOVE this. I responded more favorably to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which had a similar tone and varied ensemble and yet I felt came together with a more striking and powerful climax. There were parts within this film's ending that felt a little scattered.

      Still, as you can see, I really liked it.

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  4. Wonderful review! I especially liked your description of exploring something you aren't initially comfortable with. I've never seen any of Pedro Almodovar’s films, and this looks like something I would probably enjoy.

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    1. His films are very...fun. He has this theatricality about his drama that really lights up a scene, and he knows how to use that light. I hope you check out his films. I can't recommend Volver enough, for that to me is where he perfectly fused his tone with his subject.

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  5. I've only seen three of his movies, including this one. I liked it, but found it the weakest of the trio. The Skin I Live In and Broken Embraces are the other two. This one didn't quite come together for me the way those did.

    You said something interesting about Almodovar I'd like to modify just a bit. "Throw a man in, and things get murky." For me, hat seems to be the case when the man is straight and doesn't have what might be considered a quirky obsession. He just doesn't give them the same dynamic qualities he does gay or transgendered characters. Of course, that's only going on three movies. I certainly plan on seeing more of his work.

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    1. I agree with your amendment. And my comment really wasn't a rule either, just an observation. It was the main man that I felt ruined Broken Embraces for me (although I note that you preferred that one to this), but it was the male characters within Talk to Me that really brought so much life to the film...but those men were extremely troubled. So maybe it's less the orientation and more the fact that he doesn't always seem to be that interested in his male characters, and so some of them can detract.

      He's ALWAYS interested in his women.

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  6. I had never heard of him until i saw this in the theatre (Yup it was there I saw it..at a University) and i really enjoyed the film. I loved the humour and richness of these women. I dislike dubbed films unless it is What's New Tiger Lily or any Godzilla films. My first foray were the Japanese Godzilla flicks and his monster gang like Mothra

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    1. I can't watch a film that's been dubbed. I've had to, on occasion, because the subtitled version was not available (how does that happen?), but I far prefer to hear the actual voices and read their words than hear voices that don't match and take me out of the film.

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  7. This is still my favorite Almodovar film as I see it as the culmination of everything he was doing before this film as it's being refined and with characters you are invested in. His work can be divided into two different periods. Everything from 1980-1993 as the first half and the films he would from 1995's The Flower of My Secret to now. He is a profound influence on me as a writer as I think he understands in how to create women as more than just characters but as real people. His collaborations with Penelope Cruz, Marisa Paredes, Carmen Maura, and Cecila Roth are those great examples. I'm excited for what he will do next as I hope it has those elements that I love.

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    1. I still think that Volver, for me, represents the perfected nature of Almodovar's work, but I have a feeling that the more I sit on this, the more I'll really like it.

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  8. Like Steven, this is probably my favorite Almodovar film. I think this was the second one I saw (after Volver), and I was hooked from the beginning. It's such a beautiful, colorful film, with a magnificent performance from Roth. Cruz is also terrific. She really surprised me here, to the point that I give her the win for Best Supporting Actress. (Seriously, her work is so overlooked here.) This is the film that made me fall in love with Almodovar. So glad you liked it!

    By the way, have you seen Rosetta (for the '99 Fistis)? If not, it's the Dardennes, Emilie Dequenne, and Olivier Gourmet. It's a must watch! ;)

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    1. I 2nd that recommendation for Rosetta! That's the first Dardenne Brothers film I saw and it's the best introduction into their work.

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    2. I have seen it! I have loved it! It does snag a Fisti nom (you'll have to wait to see where)!

      1999 is such a tight year...because it is SO GOOD that there are snubs in every category...EVERY CATEGORY.

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    3. YAY! I could only fit it in Picture and Director, which was quite something, given the strength of the year.

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    4. 1999 is just so damn good. UGH, I'm serious when I say I wish I could have 12 nominees in each category. Sadly Rosetta only gets one nom from me, but it's a nice one :-D

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  9. I've never seen any works from Almodovar, though I heard about his talent. I guess I'm gonna check on his filmography someday in this year.
    Well, your review is kinda encouraging me to see it, cause it feels like an analysis that goes deep to the movie.

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    1. I'd recommend either starting here or with Volver...and Talk to Her. My first Almodovar was Talk to Her, and I loved it, but it's very different from most of his works, at least tonally. Volver is a great mesh of his talents.

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