Monday, October 10, 2005

All About My Mother

2000 Oscar Winner Best Foreign Language Film

Dir: Pedro Almodovar (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown; Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!; Talk To Her)

What a treasure of a film. Almodovar has done the nearly impossible. He takes characters that in another's hands would be cartoonish or utterly unbelievable and makes them like close friends. He gets us to accept their universe on its own terms, and in the process normalizes their lives. Most other movies about these people (transsexuals, the HIV positive, lesbians, prostitutes) would either (1) camp it up for laughs making the characters spectacular and therefore distant or (2) club us over the head with its consciousness raising politics "see, they're people too you heartless bastard" which is still an "otherizing" move, preventing personal connection. Almodovar just lets us in to observe them. In so doing, he is far more subverive than almost any film I have seen. Before you know it, you cannot judge the characters because they are truly humanized.

When Manuela's son is killed in an accident, she sets out looking for his long lost, and quite notorious father. Along the way, she encounters a cast of people gendered as women who all become interconnected, presenting a complex view of femininity and motherhood. Masculinty is forever vanishing and removed: absent fathers, lesbianism, the physical transformation from man to woman, dementia eating away at a marriage. All force these women to carve out lives in the abscence of men. The movie is like Steel Magnolias but with a brain. It was rare to see an entire cast of women, and even more so that the are treated not as stereotypes.

Technically the film is very contemporary but not gimmicky. Just enough interesting camera work to be hip, but no Tarantino stylistic elements that overwhelm the common humanity of the story. I really can't say enough about how impressed I was that the movie was so free of judgment, both of its characters and most surprisingly of its audience as well. No preaching, no scolding, just a matter of fact story of the modern age. Time capsule this one as a cultural turning point, like the first movies that had interracial romances but the movie was not about interracial romance. When the unknown becomes commonplace.

Fascinating and moving film. I give it my highest recommendation.