Director Pedro Almodovar explains the relationship between tunnels and the main character of Manuela (Cecila Roth) in All About My Mother with the line: "Manuela runs away. She always runs away on a train, through endless tunnels."
Indeed, Manuela is always moving. With the untimely death of her son, Estoban, she moves to Barcelona to embark upon a search for Estoban's father. In Barcelona, she is constantly moving from one place to another, doing something or another for someone. Save a transsexual prostitute (Antonio San Juan) here, help a pregnant nun (Penelope Cruz) there. Help smooth out the turbulent lesbian relationship between two actresses (Marisa Paredes and Candela Pena) here, usher an older woman (Rosa Maria Sarda) into a great understanding of life there. She never stops.
It seems so odd, then, that the one thing that All About My Mother would have needed to be a really great film was a better pace.
All About My Mother is an interesting, somewhat surreal and oftentimes bizarre journey of self-discovery that comes during the search of Manuela for her transsexual ex-husband, Lola. Admittedly, it is one of more bizarre foreign films I have seen (although this is not a long list and Il Mostro was pretty trippy, too). However, All About My Mother does end up being an incredibly interesting film to watch.
Penned and directed by Pedro Almodovar, All About My Mother succeeds is doing several noteworthy things. The first of which is making critics laugh. I saw this at a Cleveland press-only screening with five other critics, and we all had at least a few moments where we unleashed our tongue to let loose a chuckle. The second of which is accomplishing what amounts to a nearly all-female cast. In the cast we have one supporting male, the boy who plays Estoban. The rest of the film is comprised of women, and thus it is like watching a Spanish version of the cafe scenes in Sex and the City for about an hour and three-quarters. The third and final thing is accomplishing a movie which deserves a second glance.
To fans of the surreal, who normally can handle subtitles, All About My Mother will be quite a treat. It is a film that is able to easily provide interesting imagery (a joint effort of the great directing on behalf Pedro Almodovar and the haunting photography of Affonso Beato), incredible dialogue, and at the same time make you ponder over it.
Despite these three major strengths, however, All About My Mother is lacking in one major element: pace. Certain movies can engage themselves upon thought alone. Others rely on action. Because All About My Mother has absolutely no action to it, it must rely entirely upon thought for pacing. The thought in All About My Mother is enough to fill perhaps a thirty-minute short. There is simply not enough pacing present to sustain this film.
All About My Mother has been voted the best foreign film of the year by several major critics circles. To say this about All About My Mother makes me wonder what the other foreign films were like this year. It's good. It gets a lukewarm recommendation. But its not that great.
Then again, that's the problem when you have to give a film points just for being foreign.
Aka Todo Sobre Mi Madre.
My Mother can beat up your mother.