Twenty years ago, Pedro Almodóvar’s most acclaimed film, the Oscar-winning “All About My Mother,” was released. This film has always stood out to me within the Almodóvar canon as his first earnestly dramatic film, especially as pathos is not a sentiment often associated with Almodóvar’s work. Many people think of his campy comedies like “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” or his boundary-pushing melodramas like “The Law of Desire,” which feature explicit gay sex. Nevertheless, “All About My Mother” is heart-rending story about a mother, Manuela (played beautifully by Cecilia Roth), who is figuring out how to go on with her life once her teenage son, Esteban—the light and center of her life—is hit by a car and killed.
Film critics writing two decades ago noticed this shift in the tone of Almodóvar’s work. New York Times critic Wesley Morris, then writing for the San Francisco Examiner, wrote, “Before, with Almodóvar, a sudden tragedy like Esteban’s death would have weakened Manuela, depraved her. But here and in Roth’s delicate hands, Manuela is an emblem of sacrifice, nearly crippled by grief.” Indeed, most of the films Almodóvar has made after “All About My Mother”—“Talk To Her,” “Bad Education,” “Volver”—have been more sincerely dramatic.