While Pedro Almodóvar’s work can’t be considered a series, his films do form one magnificent tapestry. I can sometimes keep aspects of individual Almodóvar movies clear in my mind; I know the plots of some and remember individual sequences or even arresting images and what movie they belong to—but I find that, overall, his movies are so connected and so much the world of Almodóvar that the feeling is of one gigantic movie. Nowhere is this more the case for me than with All About My Mother (1999)—a film that I often think is his masterpiece—and not just because it quotes directly from Almodóvar’s earlier film The Flower of My Secret (1995). It’s because All About My Mother seems like the ultimate Almodóvar: a heady mix of soap, melodrama, romance and glitz, shot through with references to A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and All About Eve (1950). Populated with a grieving mother, a lesbian actress, a pregnant nun, a doomed young man, a drug addict and no less than two half-transsexuals, All About My Mother has a bumper crop of Almodóvar outrageousness. Yet, it remains wholly—and painfully—human at all times.
The film is also immensely clever. Without wishing to give anything away to first-time viewers, it constantly appears to be going in directions and then going elsewhere. Even its title is somewhat misleading—except that it isn’t in the final analysis. Almodóvar is no stranger to the improbable plot. For that matter, he’s perfectly at home with a little misdirection. Consider the build-up to the solar eclipse in Matador (1986). But he takes the practice to new extremes here—only to turn around when he needs to in order to give the viewer what he or she wants. I’m going to leave the film description here, because it’s a movie best explored with little foreknowledge. I’ll be glad to talk it over with you.