All About My Mother

After a very long hiatus, it's time to fire up that Almodóvar Season. This one is supposedly his finest work, so it's a good place to start. Again.

The film is beautiful, no doubt, but not just because of the dazzling sets and the clever frames. It's the actresses! Cecilia Roth, who plays the protagonist, is pitch-perfect in every scene. How she can portray affection AND discomfort, pain AND kindness, anger AND regret, is really quite magical. Marisa Paredes is tragic as the grim, pathetic fading star. Antonia San Juan of course kills everyone with her short speech about authenticity (one of the finest pieces of writing I've encountered in an Almodóvar film), but she is even more winning elsewhere as the witty, flirty, street-smart ally and confidante. Rosa Maria Sardá has a comparatively minor role, but she's brilliant as the confused and worried centre of a dying family. Penélope Cruz shines less brightly, but she holds her own in the scenes with Roth, and convinces as the vulnerable idealist in need of a home.

In fact, the only miss for me is Tony Cantó as Lola. While the poor quality sound may have been partly to blame, his performance at the funeral scene was just slightly off. It felt like it was straight overblown melodrama, which distanced rather than enhanced the emotion of the scene. Cantó looked great as the repenting charismatic rake, but he could not get beyond the costume. Slight stumble here, tho the rest of the film got the fantasy / reality balance perfect.

Because that's what Almodóvar's whole deal is, right? Crazy plotting, pulpy drama, nerdy referencing, but all that rendered somehow affecting, deeply moving. Without the actresses -- and without his talent for directing actresses -- I don't think it would work.

Which is why the final dedication 'to all women who act' is entirely appropriate. There are more dedications, and we might ask what else the film is about. Motherhood, suffering, forgiveness, friendship, fulfilment, perhaps. It's not a coherent set of messages for me. But it doesn't matter. Themes, for once, are not the main draw. I say again, this one is all about the women who act.

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