Wednesday, 28 May 2014

All About My Mother

Gender Bender

Pedro Almodovar has got nerves of adamantium. Critics used to call him the enfant terrible of Spanish cinema. These days the media scumbags (myself included) will say he is a ‘cult’ auteur. In the film which earned him international plaudits, the Iberian writer and director’s unconventional skills come to the fore in a tragedy of strong, unconventional and downright ambiguous women.

A transplant technician (Cecilia Roth) lives alone with her Truman Capote-inspired son until an unexpected event (no spoilers!) changes the course of her life. Reuniting with her transgender friend Agrado (Antonia San Juan) in the red light areas of Barcelona, the dogged matriarch goes in search of a former scoundrel and lover.

Conservatives really ought to steer clear of Almodovar’s work for fear of having their sensibilities violently broken. All About My Mother upholds a vigorously liberal stance, embracing the cross-gender community of Catalunya’s ‘working girls’ and proudly sticks two fingers up to Catholic orthodoxy.

Rather sweetly, this is a film about gay people without actually obsessing over being gay. Instead we get a celebration of the fairer sex in whatever shape or form.

In a similar vein, the script is like a meandering enigma of humour, drama and baffling oddness. Shocks come thick and fast which will leave you dumbfounded and not-half bewildered. Despite open references to Hollywood classics like All About Eve and Streetcar Named Desire, the story is totally unpredictable and refreshingly different.

If, as Fredric Jameson suggests, originality is a myth then this is the best pastiche I have ever seen. It seems the American Academy agreed when they bestowed the best foreign language feature award on this curious creation.

Anchoring the movie through some frothing waters is a selection of fantastic performances from a well-cast ensemble. Roth is incredible in the film’s emotional centre whilst Marisa Paredes and the unheard-of San Juan nurture a sublime range of layers from their contrasting heroines. Long time Almodovar muse Penelope Cruz also offers her talents as a conflicted nun. Nobody could fail to notice the reasons why this role launched her career in English language films.

For the disappointingly slim number of you who are brave enough to explore foreign cinema, All About My Mother is a must watch. It simply has no peer in quality or style among any of Hollywood’s, Britain’s or Australia’s celluloid offerings.  Is there anything more fascinating than a film in a genre all of its own?


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