All About My Mother, 1999 | Analysis
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Published: Thu, 18 May 2017
This is essay will attempt to examine the film All About My Mother using different interpretations and theories about gender roles in society to create a view of Almadovar’s work. I shall explore Almadovar’s work in terms of his difficulty to show female identification and how he uses social interactions as a short cut to portraying women and men as one. The film was released in 1999 at a time when homosexuality was still politically oppressed especially in relation to gay marriage. Almadovar uses his film to show a more politically accepted view towards homosexuality between both men and women in a radical way than at the time of release were accepted. As Stephen Maddison suggests Almadovar is believed and been labelled as a ‘Women’s director’ in as much as he, as well as others (typically Tennessee Williams), signify a standard for the identification of women and/or homosexuality.
All About My Mother, predominately uses scenes from Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire and it can instantly be seen that this is a benchmark for Almadovar’s concerns in relation to the character’s and their backgrounds, especially that of the film’s female protagonist, Manuela. We also repeatedly see the same scene from Streetcar which is never the less done on purpose. The scene is that of the end of the play where Stella ‘supposedly’ leaves her husband, Stanley. The director obviously wanted us to see this scene for what it was as he shows this scene in relation to women and their strength. The fact that this scene is shown repeatedly throughout the film (Manuela and her son watch it together and we see the scene and again after he dies) shows us how varied productions of the same play have changed William’s ending, most notably from the original where Stella is left sobbing on a step while Stanley kneels beside her and puts his hand across her blouse therefore regaining his control over her. In Almadovar’s film however, Stella leaves stage right just after calling Stanley a ‘bastard’. In Almadovar’s case, he is trying to show how heterosexuality seems insufferable today as it appeared in William’s play. It also denotes that women have choices in life and are not controlled by men.
As Mulvey suggests in Performance analysis with the relation of women to men “women are [simultaneously] looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness.” All about my mother seems to take this assumption and turn it on its head and throughout the entire film there seems to be this allure towards creating a performance that is different from the way established performances are held. Mulvey goes on to explain that Budd Boetticher says
“What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the women has not the slightest importance.”
Almadovar uses this as a reason to show the opposite of such belief. It becomes quite clear that in All about my mother the focus is concentrated on the relationships that Manuela holds and creates with the other women in the film. She is the heroine; the main objective of the film is for Manuela to find Estaban’s father which takes the focal point at the start but this is pushed aside quite quickly and the film becomes Manuela’s journey through the past. Finding Estaban’s father resurfaces later on in the film but does not arrange the narrative. Of course theorists including Mulvey suggest that “Man is the bearer of the look of the spectator” whereas Almadovar shows us in Mother it is the women that controls the look. The focal point of the film if on Women.
Almadovar’s film makes obvious note and reference to the film All about Eve (1950). The actress in the film ‘Margo’ seems to disprove the idea that she could be seen as ‘just a body and a voice’ but at the same time we are taken through the story by a man watching from a nearby stall. The man is still the bearer of the look and with this in mind we are in some ways forced to side with the male protagonist in the piece.
In Mother, we can see that Manuela does not compare with Mulvey’s views on the act of the female in cinema. While Mulvey suggests that women are looked at for erotic pleasure which in direct correlation to the “leitmotif of erotic spectacle: from pin ups to strip-tease”, Manuela becomes a mother, not only to her son but to the other women in the film and shows professional mothering skills. We must not forget that in the film she displays her skill for cooking and nursing and she is also an actress whom can improvise and lie convincingly. Predominantly the film is about mothering. And this is seen throughout the film and coincidentally the film lacks all fathering. The only father in the film is that of Sister Rosa’s father whom suffering from Alzheimer’s has become child like, dependant on a women.
The consensus that is the men that are the heroes of the film and also the bearer of the look does find its way back into the picture by the end of the film. It is Esteban the second who creates the miracle at the end of the film, when his HIV passed on by sister Rosa, is neutralized. However we must realise that this comes from a child dependant on the other the women in the film and that his HIV miracle is from the utopian of his gender dissident mothers.
A key character in this film which we can interpret in many different ways and use to look at Almodovar’s work as a whole is that of Agrado. She is the lead transvestite character in the film and still bears the male hood of a penis. Almodovar uses Agrado to go against the convention of traditional cinema. Like so many other lead transvestites in film Agrado does not seek camouflage or the suppression of herself. She does not pretend to be anything else but what she is and this is how she gains her affirmation. The topic of Transgender is one which falls under harsh debate and with relation to drag has its place in films. Topics about the body and gender in relation to transgender and drag will help us to reconsider such concepts which, in this film, are overlaid throughout the whole film. Transgender is. as expected, one factor that has led to a reconstruction of views and theories in relation to gender. As Butler says in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identify (1990) ‘imitating gender, a drag queen reveals the imitative structure of gender – as well as its contingency’. It is hard to pick up on or read Almodovar’s transgender characters especially in relation to Agrado. Butler goes on to cite that of Esther Newton where Newton describes the drag as a ‘double inversion’ where by the ‘appearance is an illusion’. The external appearance is feminine to the eye but the interior is very much masculine but the same can be said vice versa. With this is mind we cannot take Agrado as either a man or a women; in fact her position between the two provides the dramatic escape from the male gaze that is intended. Agrado, however, still portrays the characteristics of a man especially with her speech when the play is cancelled. She is unashamed with her body and explains that her authenticity comes from the production of herself that she has created. Even though Agrado is not your conventional drag cabaret esque, she is a type of ‘gender parody’ as Butler explains. Agrado becomes this parody of the original; that of the normal gender identification. Butler explains that ‘it is a production which, in effect – that is, in its effect – postures as an imitation.’ Agrado is merely an imitation of a women and an imitation of a man. We somewhat feel sided with Agrado though with her openness and he disregard for peoples approval. Although this is somewhat because of the comical portrayal given by the actor. However, even though Agrado is somewhat a parody and an imitation, Butler argues still that maybe all gender is just an act. ‘in other ritual social dramas, the action of gender requires a performance that is repeated.’ which leads her on to ‘This repetition is at once a re-enactment and re-experiencing of a set of meanings already socially established.’ With this in mind we can take Agrado’s representation in the film as one for both men and women. The male still receives some of the male gaze as it were but it is mimicked by the act of the drag.
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