Pure Pedro

Pedro Almodovar, the enfantterrible whose gaudy, hilarious, gender-bending melodramas helped reinvent post-Franco Spain, has stopped pretending to be 21 anymore. With "All About My Mother," he gives us the most moving film of his career--a heartfelt tribute to women, actresses, art and "the kindness of strangers." Almodovar may have mellowed with middle age, but his characters are still more outrageous than most. His protagonist, Manuela (Cecilia Roth), is a single mother whose life is devastated when her teenage son, Esteban, is run over by a car. To restore her shattered equilibrium, she goes to Barcelona in search of the boy's father. What her son never knew is that his dad is now a woman named Lola.

On her journey, she links up with three women who will become her new family--a chatty transvestite hooker (Antonia San Juan); a naive, pregnant nun (Penelope Cruz), and the theatrical diva (Marisa Paredes) whose autograph Esteban was rushing to get when he was killed. Both funny and deeply felt, the movie traces the ways these wounded, resilient women save each other's lives. This is humanism in drag: Almodovar's passionate redefinition of family values.