“They always change the title! All About Eve should be Todo Sobre Eva,” Esteban complains to his mother, Manuela. Esteban had just noticed that the subtitles to the movie they were watching, All About Eve, had butchered the translation of the title to “Eva Unveiled” in Spanish.
“Todo Sobre Eva sounds odd,” retorts Manuela, nonchalantly. A few seconds later, Almodovar, in deadpan fashion, flashes the title of his film down the center of the screen (screenshot below). ‘Todo Sobre Mi Madre,’ it says, in large block letters of red and white, as we hear Esteban’s voice muttering “future Pulitzer winners” in response to a question his mother had asked him.
As shown in this scene, Todo Sobre Mi Madre is filled with juxtapositions, at times humorous (the juxtaposition of the introduction of the title ‘Todo Sobre Mi Madre’ and Esteban’s voice muttering “future Pulitzer winners”) and at times, as a literary experiment (the parallels in All About Eve to that of Todo Sobre Mi Madre). In this entry, I will focus on how Almodovar unveils familiar concepts and themes, juxtaposing a new situation to its more familiar parallel, in order to create something a la Almodovar.
While the parallels to All About Eve are abound throughout Todo Sobre Mi Madre, the dominant literary text permeating throughout the entire film is Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. It is from this play that Almodovar mines the necessary emotional content to accentuate his heroine, Manuela.
In order to illustrate further, I will compare the following two scenes:
In Madrid. Manuela is a spectator. Her son is sitting to her left. They are watching Stella (performed by Nina) make an impassioned vow.”I will never come back to this house again! Never!”While Manuela does not shed tears, it is clear by the contortions in her expression that she is extremely moved by the scene. Esteban even asks her after the play, “Nina Cruz must have really moved you,” to which Manuela says, “No, it’s Stella.”
In Barcelona. Manuela is a spectator. There is an empty seat to her left; her son is dead. She is watching Stella (performed by Nina) make the same impassioned vow. This time, Manuela tears up.
We finally see Manuela tear up in the second scene because this time, Stella’s plight means more to her. As she left Barcelona as a young woman, carrying Esteban in her womb, Manuela herself had vowed that she would never return again, fleeing from Lola for a more stable environment for her son. However, now, for the very same reason (for Esteban) she left, Manuela finds herself back in the city she vowed never to return to again.
Through replicating the situation, but layering each with a different set of emotional cache, Almodovar breathes life into Manuela, an Almodovar creation, as opposed to a mere replica of Tennessee Williams’s Stella. Furthermore, each time Almodovar juxtaposes the character of Stella with that of Manuela, we are able to gain further insight into Manuela’s character, for not only do we have the emotional context of Manuela within the frames of Todo Sobre Mi Madre, but we also have the added context of Stella from A Streetcar Named Desire. In some ways, Manuela is not complete without the context of Stella.
This is why Manuela matters so much to us. It is Almodovar’s layering of various familiar literary contexts upon her that allows us to identify with her on a multitude of levels, as Manuela, as Stella, as Eve, and of course, as a Mother.