The Exploration of Womanhood in All About My Mother

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Adi Radia

The Exploration of Womanhood in All About My Mother
In his critically acclaimed 1999 character-driven drama film All About My Mother (1999); writer-director Pedro Almodovar cements his reputation as an expert on the complexities and intricacies of womanhood. The film features several complex and multi-layered female characters that are portrayed with great emotional depth. Throughout the course of the film, these characters are forced to struggle with impediments such as loss, betrayal and societal prejudice. Yet, in the end, they triumph over these obstacles and take control of their lives. The protagonist of the film, Manuela, suffers the loss of her son, Esteban, early in the film and is prompted to go on a journey to Barcelona, where she meets other women who are dealing with their own issues in life. Through the events that take place in Manuela’s life and the relationships she forms with these other female characters following Esteban’s sudden and tragic death, the film explores the trials and tribulations women universally face and the various ways in which they cope and deal with these ordeals. The film also pays homage to two of the most influential representations of female characters in cinematic history: All About Eve (1950) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). The plot structure of the film serves to outline the various stages that take place in Manuela’s life at the wake of Esteban’s death, and, by extension, exposes the anatomy of how one in general deals with loss and tragedy. The film follows a linear plot structure that begins right before the death of Esteban and ends a few years later, when Manuela manages to overcome the tragedy. During the exposition, the character of Esteban and his relationship with his mother are introduced and built up. This contributes to the great shock and sympathy the audience feels when he unexpectedly dies in a car accident immediately after. The exposition also addresses the issue of suffering the loss of a loved one through sequences involving the reactions of the family members of recently demised individuals. Manuela’s subsequent journey to Barcelona signifies her immediate reaction to delve into the past and inability to move on in her life. Her goal is to locate Esteban’s father and inform him of his death. However, upon reaching there, she appears to begin the process of forgetting her sorrows and beginning a new life. When she returns on the same train to Madrid, her priorities shift to her new adopted son, also named Esteban. In the concluding segments of the film, frequent jumps in time are used to display how life begins to move faster once Manuela is no longer holding on to her loss. In the closing sequence, when Manuela visits Barcelona again, all the characters are shown to have overcome the struggles of their past and moved on in life. The structure of the narrative is quite unconventional and serves to explore the intricacies of the characters rather than present much action. Initially, the plot seems to be goal-driven and based on uncovering Manuela’s quest to find Lola – Esteban’s father. From the beginning of the movie, suspense is created about the father, when Esteban repeatedly inquires about him. However, as Manuela reaches Barcelona and her life gets intertwined with other women who are trying to cope with their own problems, the plot loses a sense of purpose and no longer has a clear direction. This lack of focus parallels Manuela’s state of mind. Manuela is in a period of self-discovery and does not have a specific goal in life at this point in the narrative. It also allows the film to freely explore the lives of these different women and achieve a level of emotional depth into their characters, and the issues they face. The audience, however, is gradually made aware of Manuela’s past and her relationship with Lola. In addition, she does end up meeting Lola, even though her priorities have changed by this point. Manuela’s past is...
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