The Spanish word for life ought to be Almodóvar. Since bursting onto the international film scene in 1980, this irrepressible showman has served up tangy, nourishing stews of bent men and brave women, of comedy and melodrama, passion and grief. His 1988 Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown made him a sensation in the States, but All About My Mother was the true breakthrough, touching a depth his early films only danced around.
Its heroine is Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a Madrid nurse who works in her hospital’s organ-transplant unit and has lovingly raised her darling son Esteban (Eloy Azorin). When he is tragically torn from her, she conceives a mission: to grieve heroically and heal the wounds of other desperate souls. Manuela is the ultimate organ donor: now that her heart has been broken, she gives pieces of it to everyone. In Barcelona, by chance or fate, she meets her flock: Sister Rosa (Penélope Cruz), a nun who deserves many fretful prayers, and her bitter mom (Rosa Maria Sarda); the stage actress Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes) and her druggie lover Nina (Candela Pena); and Agrado (Antonia San Juan), a transsexual prostitute. Manuela helps all these women fulfill their dreams on their way to transcendence, accommodation or early death. Almodóvar nearly topped himself with the 2002 Talk to Her, another buoyant film about mourning, which won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. But Mother remains the most mature and satisfying work in a glittering, consistently surprising career.