(1999; Todo sobre mi madre, Spanish) On the 26th of September in Madrid, her son Esteban's 17th birthday, Manuela Echevarria (Cecilia Roth) takes him to see the play A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes) as Blanche DuBois. In the rain mother and son wait for the actress to exit the back of the theater so that Esteban, who aspires to be a writer, can ask for her autograph; but when Huma and her co-star Nina (Candela Peña) get into a car and drive off without granting him his wish, he chases after them on foot. Another car runs him over.
At the hospital Esteban dies of his injuries; Manuela, who is the coordinator of the organ-transplant unit, gives consent (having performed a similar role in simulations for bereaved family members) for his heart to become another's gift of life. (Briefly Esteban speaks from beyond the grave, but then we don't hear directly from him again.)
Resigning from her job (after going to see the transplant recipient leaving the hospital), she rides in reverse the same train she rode 18 years earlier from Barcelona, going to inform her former husband of their son's death. She had not made known to him she was pregnant back then; she had told Esteban his father was dead. Six months pass before she makes contact with him at someone else's funeral.
In the meantime, she finds his former roommate, the "authentic" Agrado (Antonia San Juan), a one-time truck driver turned transsexual prostitute ("I've always tried to make life agreeable for others"), who complains of Lola's having cleared out and cleaned out their apartment.
Needing work and pretending to be a woman of the streets wanting to reform (Agrado's suggestion), Manuela makes acquaintance with Sister Rosa (Penelope Cruz) who takes Manuela to see her mother (a painter making imitations of Chagall) in hopes of getting her hired as a cook and nurse for her demented father; but her mother declines to have a whore in the house. At the theater where Tennessee Williams's stage play has opened, Manuela goes to see Huma in hopes of finally obtaining an autograph.
A woman will do anything, accepting any role required of her, in director/writer Pedro Almodóvar's film, all about female relationships - mother, lover, wife, whore, nurse, nun - not to be alone.
In need of a driver, Huma accepts Manuela's offer to search for Nina, who's "hooked on junk, but I'm hooked on her." After Huma hires Manuela as her personal assistant, Manuela substitutes for Nina as Stella on stage. Later Nina accuses Manuela of being like Eve Harrington in All About Eve.
Rosa the nun confesses to Manuela that she's pregnant and that Lola is the father; she's also HIV positive. Quitting her position with Huma, Manuela takes Rosa (who hates her mother) into her apartment as a sister and devotes herself to caring for the girl.
An explanation: Manuela met her husband-to-be in Barcelona during an amateur production of A Streetcar Named Desire, with her in the role of Stella and he as Stanley Kowalski; leaving her for two years, he returned with bigger breasts than hers, established a bar, and proceeded to behave promiscuously. She departed for Madrid, as she will once more to return yet again to Barcelona, bringing back Esteban for her friends to see.
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