This film review is a contribution to the Spanish Word-A-Day written by Christopher Champion from Oxford.

This was a hit film when it was released, and even enjoyed success in English speaking countries (the title in English is All About My Mother). The film is a great representation of Pedro Almodóvar’s (the director) work, since it deals with many key issues that he is interested in. The opening sequence shows us immediately his interest in the creative process, not to mention the way Esteban is writing the story of his mother, which is, we assume, what we are watching. The role of viewer and media is turned on its head as we watch him writing from within the TV set and so we are plunged into what is certainly going to be a film full of details worth pondering.

As the title suggests it is about his mother and this is where another major interest of Almodóvar’s comes into play: women. He is fascinated by the role of women and sexuality (this can be seen in most of his films not least in the international hit “Mujeres al Bordo de un Ataque de Nervios” – “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”). In this film, amongst other things, we are given insights into the seedier side of Barcelona, and the problems to do with prostitution as well as an interesting look at transvestites. Almodóvar is not trying to shock, as in his earlier films, with the inclusion of transvestites instead he is looking at them as human beings and developing an empathy towards them during the film.

Another key feature is the use of a film or a play within the film. Layers of fiction have existed for centuries, as far back as Don Quijote, but here the plays or films are woven in to create subtle effects either creating parallels with the action in the foreground of the film, or provoking thoughts relevant to the other characters. One of the most effective uses of this is when we start questioning where the acting stops and the real character begins, something seen in more details in Carlos Saura’s work. The main play interwoven is a reproduction of a film version of Tenesee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire”, a fantastic play well worth reading, but there are three interwoven plays/films that I spotted, see if you can work them all out (the third is a tricky one).

This film is a fascinating insight into the mind of the protagonist, Manuela, in her chaotic life and it is full of poignant scenes, emotion and sublime moments of comedy (watch out for La Agrado’s monologue, a highly entertaining piece of impromptu entertainment).

This is a great place to start with Almodóvar, since it is a film that you can appreciate many times (to date I have watched it 8 times), and it explores most of the major themes he is interested in. Almodóvar’s films are available in box sets, and I think they are excellent value and mostly very good films. However, they are not for the fainthearted, so before committing yourself I recommend you see this film and decide for yourself what you think about Almodóvar. As ever, if you do buy this film please buy it through the links to Amazon so that Spanish Word-A-Day can benefit from your purchase.