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All About My Mother( Todo sobre mi madre)

The maturation of Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodóvar reaches a new zenith with "All About My Mother," which builds on themes prevalent in his earlier work. His new motion picture is a paean to women in all their glories, whether it is mother, whore, nun or actress.

In fact, Almodóvar has dedicated the picture to three great stars playing actresses on screen: Gena Rowlands in "Opening Night (1977)," Romy Schneider in L'Important c'est d'aimer/The Most Important Thing: Love (1975, French)" and Bette Davis in "All About Eve" (1950). "All About Eve" is referenced numerous times, most obviously in the title.

As in any of Almodóvar's films, the plot is complicated. Essentially, it is the story of Manuela (the luminous Cecilia Roth), a single mother who works in a hospital as a transplant coordinator. In celebration of the 17th birthday of her son, Estaban (Eloy Azorin), she takes him to see "A Streetcar Named Desire," and they wait to get the autograph of the star, Huma Rojo (the superb Marisa Paredes), but Estaban is killed in a freak accident as he chases after the stage diva.

A distraught Manuela eventually leaves her home in Madrid and travels to Barcelona in search of the boy's father, who is now a transsexual named Lola. Through a serendipitous series of events, Manuela is reunited with La Agrado (a fine Antonia San Juan), a transsexual prostitute trying to "go straight", meets an HIV-positive, pregnant nun (the sublime Penélope Cruz) and, in an echo of "All About Eve," becomes the assistant to Rojo.

And this is just the setup. So much is packed into the script, but it all unfolds at a brisk pace and in a relatively straightforward manner.

Almodóvar has crafted a superb, richly entertaining film, one that not only pays homage to great screen actresses of the past but also offers memorable roles for four fine female performers of the present.

*MPAA rating: R, for sexuality, including strong sexual dialogue, language and some drug content.

"All About My Mother"

Cecilia Roth: Manuela

Eloy Azorin: Esteban

Marisa Paredes: Huma Rojo

Penélope Cruz: Hermana Rosa

Candela Pena: Nina

An SPC presentation. Director Pedro Almodóvar. Writer Pedro Almodóvar. Producer Agustin Almodovar. Director of Photography Affonso Beato. Editor Jose Salcedo. Music Alberto Iglesias. Production Designer Antxón Gómez. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.