”The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!!! …” Father Merrin&Father Damien Karras from the movie -The Exorcist- This quote….
The Spanish culture has been known for its masculinity. Bullfighters, soccer players, and other manly figures are often associated with the image of the Spanish culture. They had even introduced the word “machismo” to the English language. One movie provides us a slice of the Spanish culture: “Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother)”, a film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. The film had received a wide reception both in Spain and other parts of the world. The film “Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother)” talks about an issue that is very rarely associated with the Spanish culture: Womanhood.
The story was basically about Manuela’s search for the father of her dead son, Esteban. Manuela did not tell her son anything about his real father, she only told her that he was already dead long before he was born. However, Esteban wanted to know his father better than her mother’s one-sentence description. As the driving conflict of the story, Esteban died and his notebook revealed that he desired to know his father.
It would be revealed that Esteban’s real father was a prostitute transvestite with the name Lola. The search for the man named Lola had set Manuela’s life in a rollercoaster ride full of unpredictable turns and loops. During the course of the search, Manuela meets colorful people that would make her realize that life is still worth living.
Almodóvar’s plot could be described as unpredictable, which gives the film realism. Conflicts are introduced one after another, and at some points intertwined. The camera work was executed with high regard to modern aesthetics.
The characters were beautifully designed, some so realistic but most are certainly peculiar. Manuela’s search for Lola had led her back to the underground world of Barcelona, where transvestites were not an uncommon. The underground version of Barcelona is certainly a visual treat to the audience to an unfamiliar yet colorful world. There, Manuela meets up with old friends, like Agrado, and some new ones. In addition, through those new relationships, Manuela had somehow managed to heal a portion of the wound inflicted by the death of her son.
The film’s highlighting of womanhood in the Spanish context is admirable. From the title alone, “All About My Mother”, the audience are immediately notified that this would be a story about a woman. Even the name of the protagonist Manuela, supposedly derived from a man’s name: Manuel, suggests that this film would talk about womanhood. But the most interesting aspect of the film is the inclusion of a transvestite. It would be helpful to reiterate that the Spanish culture takes pride on its oozing masculinity.
However, womanhood was not entirely glorified by the film. It seems that the film had utilized a negative and rather offensive stereotype to women. In the initial part of the story, Manuela had told Esteban that his father had died long before he was born. It would not take long that the audience would discover that Manuela is telling a lie. There are other points within the narrative that a woman (and the woman-like) would tell lies. It seems that Almodóvar is arguing that Spanish women make lies, not because there is a lack of morals, but for the benefit of others, much like a white lie. Manuela did not inform Esteban about the unconventional truth about his father, supposedly to protect her son from the implications of having a transvestite for a father.
Almodóvar’s casting of a woman protagonist and transsexual males could be interpreted as a social satire, but if we try to analyze the intention behind the film, we are likely to arrive at a positive note. “Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother)” becomes a representative for the Spanish culture. Other cultures who would watch the film would realize that the Spanish community is not all about machismo. The film somewhat deconstructs the stereotyped image of the Spanish culture as being male-dominated. The film is seemingly arguing that the Spanish women are just as interesting as Spanish men.
All in all, Almodóvar’s “Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother)” shares the culture of the Spaniards in a new yet more vibrant light. The English subtitles are really helpful for those without a background on the Spanish language. However, the original language should be preserved for the audience to have a distinct Spanish experience.
ALMODÓVAR, P. (1999) “Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother)”