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All About My Mother (free)

  • Chazen Museum of Art 750 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)
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Pedro Almodóvar's 1999 film All About My Mother is a massive drama of tremendous and confusing power, in which the emotions start at 8, leap to 10, and stay pinned in the red throughout. But this film also handles its wild material with deceptive nuance, dealing with a plot that even soap opera writers would deem far-fetched if not for Almodóvar's sincerity. Cecilia Roth's starring performance as Manuela, an Argentine nurse in Madrid and then Barcelona who is left devastated after her son Esteban dies in a car accident, does a lot to keep the film grounded. Roth doesn't overplay. She pulls out the stops when called for (the scene where she sees her son die is agonizing to watch), but navigates every feverish plot twist and coincidence with perfect plausibility. If there was a hint otherwise from her, the tone of the film would be ruined, and Roth is never less than totally honest. Manuela is the rock for the other characters to bounce off of, from her old best friend, a transgender prostitute named Agrado (Antonia San Juan in a lively and moving turn), to Rosa (Penelope Cruz), a pregnant, HIV-positive nun. Many of the characters are sketched with broad strokes, as would be expected from a director this influenced by sensationalized '50's melodramas, but they are also paradoxically given dignity, complexity and depth. And it is finally this humanity, found in places and characters that would have easily made for utter caricature in less talented, wise and generous hands, that elevates All About My Mother into the realm of at least a minor classic. The film screens here in a 35mm print, closing out UW Cinematheque's extensive fall retrospective on Almodóvar. —Mike Noto

Earlier Event: December 17
Black Sheep Bazaar VI (free)
Later Event: December 17
Chris Speed/Dave King/Chris Tordini Trio