“Making masculinity vulnerable and lingering within that vulnerability allows any set of assumptions about manhood and men to be challenged and allows for new possibilities of what masculinity might come to mean” (Allbritton 232). In Paternity and Pathogens, the author emphasizes the relationship between masculinity and death through an analysis of two of Almodovar’s cinematic productions, Todo Sobre Mi Madre and Hable Con Ella. Allbritton also argues that Almodovar takes an active role in challenging normative masculinity in both films; his characters represent the fluidity that exists within the male spectrum and in turn, manhood.
Nevertheless, there is not much exploration of the female spectrum in Allbritton’s piece and how Almodovar strives to break the stereotypes of normative femininity and womanhood. With that being said, Almodovar’s Todo Sobre Mi Madre includes distinct characters that portray the fluidity of the female spectrum via sexual orientation and gender identity, thus deconstructing the norms of womanhood that have been most prevalent during the Franco regime and beyond.
This essay will analyze the representation of a few characters in this cinematic work who identify anywhere along the female spectrum as well as examine the cinematographic techniques present in specific scenes, in order to shed light on the diversity of womanhood and the “new possibilities of what [femininity] might come to mean” (Allbritton 232). Manuela Manuela is a single mother and nurse who supervises organ transplants in a hospital located in Madrid.
One of her nursing duties is to roleplay on film as a patient’s relative or spouse based on scenarios where transplant is deemed as the only way to save the loved one’s life. Manuela’s acting in response to these types of situations and from her youth will eventually give her the ability to cope from the untimely death of her only son and perform on stage with a famous actress that will become one of her closest companions. Her experience as a mother will grant her the compassion to raise a baby of a young woman who is HIV-positive.
It is Manuela’s character that portrays motherhood, heterosexuality from her previous relationship and not being romantically involved with another individual as some of the many facets of femininity. The main, female protagonist is an excellent representation of how there is variety along the feminine spectrum and there are multiple definitions of womanhood. For example, a few of the last scenes of the film depicts Manuela holding the baby that she has taken under her care on a train ride from Barcelona to Madrid and vis versa.
At this point in her life, she is a mother once again and still not romantically involved with anyone for that matter. In terms of the cinematographic techniques evident in the return to Madrid, it is first dim throughout the train and then there is an increase in brightness specifically on Manuela and the baby; the change in lighting reflects these two characters beginning a new life together where there is much hope.
Two years later, the return to Barcelona has a slightly different cinematic feel in terms of lighting: there is a constant brightness upon Manuela and her child, which signifies that hope is a constant entity in both of their lives. Most importantly, Manuela emanates resilience and strength as a single parent who has overcome her life struggles without any dependence on a patriarchal, authoritative figure, which is a prominent theme of Todo Sobre Mi Madre. Huma Huma is a renowned actress that plays a character in the play, A Streetcar Named Desire.
Her acting career and her relationship with her female co-star, Nina, seem to be her main concern prior to the car accident that will result in the death of Manuela’s son. It is not until after this event that she comes into contact with Manuela for the first time and confides in her to help search for Nina in the heart of Barcelona. Huma’s sexual orientation is evident when she explains to Manuela how important it is to find her lover; the worry that washes over the actress’ face when she is anticipating Nina’s return demonstrates how much she cares for her partner, who happens to be addicted to hard drugs.
This female character is a slight contrast from Manuela, in terms of relationship status and her romantic/sexual attraction to women, which supports that femininity is not only dedicated to heterosexual females, but also to those who identify with a differing sexual orientation. The scene previously mentioned where Huma is looking for her beloved Nina will now be further examined, with an additional focus on the interactions amongst characters as well as the cinematographic techniques that Almodovar strategically utilizes at this point in the film.
First, the conversation that ensues between Huma and Manuela during the car ride consists of Huma describing the story behind her stage name. The background music before the search for Nina contains short crescendos of the violin; the intensity and volume increases when both female characters spot Nina with fellow drug addicts. After Manuela walks to Nina in order to get her attention and notify her that Huma is waiting in the car, Nina and Huma make eye contact for a significant amount of time.
In addition, the camera depicts a close-up of Huma’s face to capture her emotional state, which can be characterized as a mix of disappointment and compassion for Nina. We, the audience, are compelled to feel empathy for Huma as the close-up allows for the possibility of a deeper connection between character and viewer. Most importantly, it is this particular scene in which Almodovar portrays homosexuality as an additional facet on the feminine spectrum, thus reinstating the fluidity that is womanhood. Agrado
Agrado is an old companion of Manuela’s ex-lover and transexual female who gives Manuela assistance in finding a job in Barcelona. After crossing paths with Manuela, she is welcomed into her life with open arms as her confidant and the same process occurs with Huma. Due to the budding friendship that develops between Agrado and the two female characters, she is able to step away from dangerous situations that she has been accustomed to in the streets to a lifestyle filled with acting and entertaining others.
Agrado’s personality is down-to-earth and radiates authenticity, a theme that will later be discussed in regards to an analysis of a specific scene. Moreover, her gender identity as a trans-woman is part of the feminine experience and it gives strength to the diversity that exists on this spectrum. For example, there is a moment in the film when Agrado has to make an announcement on stage that the two lead actresses, Huma and Nina, are unable to attend performance night. She is standing in front of a vibrant, red curtain and the screen turns white from the stage lights before she tells the audience the news.
The camera gradually closes in on Agrado, specifically the upper half of her body, as she is relaying the information; all of the focus is on this female character and viewers of the film are made to feel like they are a part of the audience in the performance center. In order to make up for Huma and Nina’s absence, Agrado decides to entertain the theatergoers with her life story. She proudly lists all of the bodily operations she has received, along with its costs, to become her authentic self.
The last portion of her speech centers on authenticity and its worth, which is significant because she commits herself financially to transitioning into the person that she has always dreamed of becoming. It is during this point in the film that the camera moves from mid-shot to a close-up of Agrado’s face, which enables the viewers and audience members to understand her interpretation of authenticity on a personal level and conceive the “new possibilities of what [femininity] might come to mean” in their reality (Allbritton 232).
Female Companionship: Manuela, Huma and Agrado The analysis of each female character provides the foundation to now elaborate on the interactions amongst these individuals and the visual representation of the diversity that exists within the feminine spectrum. Manuela, Huma and Agrado are women of various gender identities and sexual orientations who develop a strong friendship throughout the film.
Furthermore, the level of trustworthiness and care that is displayed on screen, on behalf of the three protagonists, symbolizes the importance of female companionship. The idea of women from different backgrounds coming together as a collective force and supporting each other along the journey to social advancement, despite these differences, is the essence of womanhood. Thematically, female companionship is most evident in one specific act of this cinematic production.
The setting of this scene takes place in Manuela’s abode where she is explaining to Huma that she is unable to be employed as a fellow actress due to her caretaking responsibilities. Manuela then informs Huma that she knows a great person for the job, which happens to be her other female companion, Agrado. In a matter of seconds, Manuela, Huma and Agrado are in the living room enjoying each other’s presence over refreshments; the camera angle is strategically focused mid-shot on all three women during their conversation.
Also, the protagonists are sitting down on the couch at the same level, which alludes to a healthy friendship where Manuela, Huma and Agrado view each other as equals. A power dynamic based on norms of sexuality and gender do not exist in this production, especially in this particular scene. Conclusion In summary, the female characters in Almodovar’s Todo Sobre Mi Madre represent the fluidity of womanhood, in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation.
It is through these women that Almodovar strives to challenge the presumptions of normative femininity that has been prominent during the Franco era, since “[he] never speaks of Franco; [he] hardly acknowledges his existence” (Vernon). The various cinematographic techniques, from camera shots to lighting, enhances the viewer’s understanding of the protagonist’s’ pointof-view. As a result, they are given the space to question their preconceived beliefs of what it means to be feminine and identify anywhere along the female spectrum, which is the ultimate goal of this cinematic piece.