The phrase “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”—famously uttered by Blanche DuBois at the end of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire—reverberates throughout Pedro Almodóvar’s vivacious, colourful 1999 film.
Here, as in many of his other films, Almodóvar interrogates gender roles and addresses notions of authenticity and multifaceted identity in remarkably interesting ways. A single mother goes in search of her one-time partner, a man who is now a transvestite prostitute living in Barcelona; she reunites with an old friend who is now a well-known theatre actress performing in a run of Streetcar, and meets a young woman (Penélope Cruz) who is pregnant with her first child.
The delicate, complex narrative is relatively cumbersome and somewhat difficult to summarize without giving away crucial plot points—don’t read the back of the DVD case before you watch it for the first time!—but suffice it to say that the resolution is both palpably emotional and somewhat unexpected.
The title is a riff on All About Eve, Joseph Mankiewicz’s wonderful film of 1950 starring Bette Davis, an actress whose presence looms large over the characters here—and the film has flashes of Laura, and other female-driven dramatic films from that era. A paean to women everywhere, and especially to mothers, the film is dedicated to “all actresses who have played actresses; to all men who act and become women, and to all the people who want to be mothers.” It is the director’s best, most continually rewarding (read: re-watchable) film, and contains, among other great performances, some of the best acting of Cruz’s career.