I’ve just discovered Pedro Almodóvar. In that strange, timely way that the universe sometimes has, as I was curled up on the couch at home wondering where these films had been all my life ,the IFI has been having a Pedro Almodóvar season of which I was entirely unaware and have now, sadly, missed. I’m pretty sure those deep red palettes and severe letterbox compositions improve threefold on the big screen, so if you did catch something of his in the IFI I’m dead jealous.
I’m new to his work and not much of a film student – herself is a serious film buff and a close friend is a film maker: both these women save me from pretentions about my meagre knowledge of film. Film studies was inescapable in my undergraduate and it was a subject I thrived in like a spider under treacle. I do, however, know what I like. I like Almodóvar more than I ever thought I could like a director (before this I’d have been hard pushed to identify the effect a director has on his film).
I’m currently working my way through his portfolio, there’s plenty to keep my entertained. So far my absolute favourite has to be All About My Mother (1999).
The film begins with a young, handsome boy living with his mother. They have a solid, frank relationship that belies the son’s youth. Though the boy is only turning 17 as the film begins he is working on a story about his mothers life and his birthday wish is to see a production of A Streetcar Named Desire in which his favourite actress has a roll. A round of appluase for the mother, Manuela, for raising a son like that.
As they wait in the rain for an autograph the son admits that his biggest birthday wish would have been to learn about his father, a secret his mother has kept carefully hidden. Begrudgingly, Manuela agrees to tell him the story later that evening. That evening never arrives, however, as Manuela’s life is torn apart by her son’s unexpected death and, in a few weeks, she sets off to find his father in an attempt to make peace with herself.
I’m not going to summarise more of the plot because I don’t want to spoil it for you later on (really, you all have to watch this). Anyway, the plot isn’t the main reason I fell in love with this film. I fell in love with it for it’s light touch and soft edges. Though many of the subjects are very harsh – car accidents, heart transplants, prostitution, drug addiction, HIV and a myriad of other things – Almodóvar handles them all in a way that takes of the glare.
More used to mainstream (American) film, I would normally run a million miles from a film dealing with those subjects because I really don’t want to watch slightly gory, scopophilic treatments of sex, death and pain that I’ve come to expect. While All About My Mother doesn’t shy away from the emotions of these things, it is almost stage-like in its use of allusion and relies on the intelligence of the viewer to follow the tragedy unfolding in the story rather than pouring every detail onto the screen.
There is a quirky, off-beat vibe to the film as well which gives it an enjoyable but slightly unreal feeling. There is a sense of gravity throughout, but also the vague feeling that at any moment the whole film could flutter and fly away.
My favourite aspect of the film – apart from the colour, but I’m probably a bit peculiar in my obsession with colour – was the fact that it never felt the need to explain to the audience. A number of characters are transsexual (their label, not mine) and there is not a single manufactured scene where one character explains all that stuff to another character so the audience can keep up. Ditto for the failing mind of one character and the pregnancy of another. There is a trust in the intelligence of the audience which allows you to be fully immersed in a story where subjects that characters wouldn’t need to explain to one another never get explained.
10/10 with an extra whoop of enthusiasm.