After watching Todo sobre mi madre for my Spanish grammar class, it immediately became my new favorite Spanish film (granted, I’ve only seen a handful of them). Using one of those movie websites, I exited out of four different popups and played the film on full screen with English subtitles (I’m sorry Chavela!). I quickly realized that this film does everything that a great film is supposed to do. As the 2 hours progressed, I became increasingly invested in the varied, colorful, three dimensional characters. I laughed and cried with these women’s experiences, especially so with the irrepressible Agrado. Agrado is the best friend of Manuela, who is the protagonist of the movie– she is a transgender prostitute who works around the shadier parts of Barcelona, often getting beaten up and mistreated, yet still keeps cracking jokes; there is a vibrant, engaging, almost defiant spirit about her which really spoke to me.
Here is a very short plot synopsis (spoiler alert!): Manuela and her son Esteban are close and love each other very much. Tragically one rainy night, Esteban gets run over by a car while running in the middle of the street to ask his favorite actress for her autograph. Manuela, who is absolutely devastated, goes to Barcelona to go break the news to the deceased boy’s estranged father now named Lola, who ended up having a sex change and is now a transgender woman. During her journey of mourning in Barcelona, Manuela reunites with old friends (Agrado) and makes some new ones along the way– most notably Rosa, a pregnant nun with HIV (played by an excellent young Penélope Cruz).
After watching a few of director Pedro Almodóvar’s films, one can easily tell that he loves to incorporate strong, empowered women as central characters, and Todo sobre mi madre is certainly no exception. This is unfortunately a rare theme found in major films, with the vast majority of them starring male leads (with the exception of fluffy romantic comedies). I find Almodóvar’s stray from the norm refreshing, especially considering that he is a male director. On top of this, not one, but two of the main characters are transgender. This is uncommon in films nowadays, but remembering that this film was released twenty years ago, one can imagine that this aspect was totally revolutionary at the time, especially since it also won many awards.
A big theme that I got from the film is the question of authenticity, both physical and mental. My favorite scene comes after a theater performance is abruptly cancelled and Agrado takes the stage and offers to tell the audience the story of her life, which prompts most of them to get up and leave. Then, in a funny, prideful, and sincere monologue, Agrado goes on to list all the silicone and painful surgery she had to go through to make her look like a woman. To end the monologue, Agrado utters my favorite line of the film: “It cost me a lot to be authentic. A woman is more authentic the more she looks like what she has dreamed for herself.”