Tuesday, October 18, 2016

1999 Winner, All About My Mother

All About My Mother

Director:  Pedro Almodóvar

Distributed by:  Sony Pictures Classics

Released:  April 1999

Country:  Spain

“We live in a box of space and time. Movies are windows in its walls. They allow us to enter other minds, not simply in the sense of identifying with the characters, although that is an important part of it, but by seeing the world as another person sees it.” --Roger Ebert

I always respected the work of Roger Ebert, critic for the Chicago Sun Times and the shorter, dumpier half of Siskel & Ebert, as much as I have any film critic.  I didn’t always agree with what he wrote outside of his reviews, but I always found him to be a great mixture of the scholar and the regular guy.  So after seeing All About My Mother, a movie that for me made no sense as an art film or as a story, hoping to get some insight, I checked out his review.  Ebert gave the film three and a half stars (out of four).  All I can say is, you can’t be right every time.

Ebert said of this movie, “You don't know where to position yourself while you're watching a film like All About My Mother, and that's part of the appeal: Do you take it seriously, like the characters do, or do you notice the bright colors and flashy art decoration, the cheerful homages to Tennessee Williams and  All About Eve (1950) and see it as a parody?”  And I say, well NO, not knowing if it is a heartfelt drama or a screwball satire means the director doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.

Agrado and Manuela
Okay, a brief description:  Manuela and her teenage son go see the play A Streetcar Named Desire at a theater in Argentina.  The son wants an autograph from the main actress, Huma, but gets thwacked by a car on the way and ends up posthumously and involuntarily giving his organs away.  Manuela decides it’s time for her to go back to her native Barcelona to tell the father, from whom she is estranged. During her quest to find the deadbeat dad, she befriends several characters along the way, including a young, pregnant nun-to-be played by a familiar face, Penelope Cruz.  Manuela meets up with Dad toward the end of the film to tell him the bad news.

Now I’m not dumb, but I couldn’t understand why he walked like a woman but talked like a man.  Well, it seems sometime after ditching Manuela years ago, the father became a woman called Lola.  But just because Lola did the old switcheroo doesn’t mean she didn’t like to still do some guy things once in a while, no sir!  Turns out it was Lola that recently caused young, innocent little Penelope Cruz to have a not-so immaculate conception.  In dealing with the crisis, Manuela also gets support from her transvestite prostitute chum Agrado as well as Huma and Huma’s druggie girlfriend.  A Frank Capra movie this ain’t!
You see?  It's all perfectly normal!

I previously reviewed the Iranian film and 2011 BFF Winner A Separation and commented on how despite the cultural chasm between the characters and me, I felt great empathy for just about every person in that movie.  In All About My Mother, I felt nothing approaching empathy for anyone.  I didn’t understand their motives nor their actions, and felt like everyone but Manuela basically acted on only their own impulses and self-interests.  Everybody seemed miserable and no character seemed to have any understanding of why or how to fix it.  Characters make choices in films, and you don't have to agree with those choices.  But if you don't relate with them on any level, you cannot root for them.  Roger Ebert, if he was able to see the world the way Manuela, Penelope Cruz, and Lola see it, had a more generous sense of empathy than I do.

The Title:  Todo sobre mi madre.  This is a play on the Bette Davis film, All About Eve.  That’s a movie that is completely different than the movies I usually watch, yet it is a dang good one.

Oh Brunhilde!  Be my wuv!
The Culture:  Apparently, in late 90’s Spain, girls will be boys, and boys will be girls.  It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world . . . except for Lola.

Agenda Danger:  This film was released in 1999, and things have dramatically changed culturally since then.  This film features an actor who plays a woman who was (or still is?) a man, and an actress who plays a woman who was a man.  Not to mention a to-be nun who was impregnated by a woman who used to be a man.  I’m not sure what the filmmaker is saying here, but he sure was ahead of the curve.  You see, Millennials, in Olden Times this kind of stuff was usually strictly of the comedic variety:  Milton Berle, Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, Bosom Buddies, and Bug Bunny as Brunhilde were what most Americans thought of in terms of what was called “cross-dressing.”  Nowadays, everyone is very serious about the topic and such jokes cannot be made without peril.  As far as I could tell (see Ebert’s quote above), All About My Mother’s cross-dressing is not done for laughs.  But I couldn’t be sure of that.

Best Picture that year:  American Beauty.

Rating:  To be clear, Roger Ebert liked this movie.  But I give it a full thumbs-down.

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