Something wonderful has happened to Pedro Almodóvar. Without sacrificing an ounce of the polymorphously perverse snap of such earlier, raffish works as Law of Desire and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the effusive Spanish director has found a way to express more maturely loving feelings toward his frazzled characters than ever before—and still set them in rooms of lickable lollipop colors. All About My Mother, Almodóvar’s masterwork, is a spectacular synthesis of everything that has always interested him—proud women, lovely boys, beautiful drag queens, grand movie stars, gorgeous frocks, wild wallpaper — imbued with a new tenderness. Few melodramas with such tragic underpinnings have ever made me feel so intensely happy.
And the tragedies pile up early: Manuela (dynamic Cecilia Roth), leaving a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire with her 17-year-old son, Esteban, watches horrified as he’s killed by a car while chasing the play’s star (Marisa Paredes) for an autograph. The young man had been begging his mother to tell him about the father he never knew and keeping a journal he called ”All About My Mother” (the echo of All About Eve is no accident). After Esteban’s death, Manuela sets out to find the boy’s father—who now goes by the name of Lola.
Transsexuals, a pregnant nun (Penélope Cruz), the Streetcar star’s junkie lesbian lover (Candela Peña)—the filmmaker showers these women with his highest praise when he celebrates the elan and authenticity with which they act, even if that authenticity is artificially enhanced. Honoring what he sees as a feminine instinct for depending on the kindness of one another, Almódovar (who won the top directing prize this year at Cannes) is honored in turn with full-hearted performances by great actresses inspired by feeling deeply understood. A