Prisons can be more than a place where one is confined for what they have done. A prison can be a great number of things; a prison can be a psychological, social, emotional, or physical construct. Pedro Almodovar explores these four types of prisons in two of his films, Volver and Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother). In both of these films, the characters find themselves held prisoner by what they keep as secret; the ramifications of these secrets sometimes force characters into seclusion, whether it is self-imposed or a result of social/cultural fears. Volver and Todo Sobre Mi Madre's narratives demonstrate the effects that these four types of prisons -- psychological, social, emotional, and physical -- have on the people that are forced into confinement.
"Almodovar is most interested in melodrama, approached from a variety of angles, some of them skewed" (Mast & Kawin, 2003, p. 529). A common link between Almodovar's films is that the narratives are centered around strong female characters. The auteur theory holds that "great movies are the work of a single creative mind" (Simon, 2010, p. 413). The auteur theory can imply that a director's works are recognizable and cohesive, as a cinematic canon, through themes or trademarks that carry from one film to the next. Volver and Todo Sobre Mi Madre can be attributed to Almodovar through the cast, theme, and characters. Almodovar is known for frequently casting Penelope Cruz in his films and the actress is cast in both films; in Volver Cruz is the film's leading female protagonist and in Todo Sobre Mi Madre she plays the role of Rosa, a nun who is forced to leave her work to have a baby. "Pedro Almodovar, the self-taught auteur, reinvented what it means to be a 'beautiful women,' capturing women as images everywhere from the monastery to the gutter. Nuns, transvestites, housewives and junkies are portrayed as luscious and erotic through Almodovar's lens" ('The Pedro Almodovar Archives' Explores A Life Drenched In Beauty And Drama, 2012).
Volver is a 2006 film that centers on cast of female characters that are forced to confront one crisis after another. Throughout their ordeals, the women demonstrate composure and are able to overcome obstacles by confiding in each other and letting go of the past and the secrets that have driven a wedge between them. The four main female characters are Raimunda, a working-class mother; Paula, Raimunda's teenage daughter; Soledad (Sole), Raimunda's sister; and Irene, Raimunda and Soledad's mother (Almodovar, 2006). In Volver, these skewed perspectives add fuel to the confusion as many of the characters do not know the truths that motivate each others' actions.
The secrets that the Raimunda, Paula, and Irene keep make them prisoners of their own psyche. For instance, Raimunda has never told her mother the truth about why she left her home abruptly and moved in with her Aunt Paula. The harsh reality, within the narrative, is that Raimunda was a victim of incest and her daughter, Paula, is both her daughter and her sister. This secret has kept Raimunda isolated from her mother, who she contends should have known that there was something wrong, but instead looked the other way (Almodovar, 2006). Paula, too, has been greatly affected by this secret; because she is not the biological daughter of Raimunda and her husband, Paco, she almost becomes the victim of rape. In order to prevent her adoptive father from raping her, Paula accidentally kills him. Knowing the consequences of her actions, Paula confesses to her mother what has happened and Raimunda takes it upon herself to keep the tragedy a secret -- another secret that she and her daughter are forced to live with. In essence, Raimunda and Paula become prisoners of the truth about Paco's murder and the disposal of his body; Raimunda uses the keys to a restaurant she has to look after to gain access to a large freeze which she uses to store Paco's body; later, Raimunda enlists the help of a couple of neighbors and rents a truck in order to bury Paco and the freezer. At the same time that she is trying to dispose of a body, Raimunda accidentally takes over the restaurant and caters food to a film crew; it is later revealed that Raimunda has lied to the landlord of a restaurant and has taken over the business in order to make a little extra money. Unbeknownst to Raimunda, this endeavor proves to be successful and she ultimately ends up coming clean to the landlord after someone shows an interest in purchasing the property and legitmately takes over the restaurant. Raimunda finds liberation from Paco and transforms from being a submissive woman to taking charge; this is seen through her taking over the restaurant and making it successful as well as her taking responsibility for her daugher's actions.
The narrative of the film also exposes Irene as a prisoner of the truth, as well as a prisoner within a house. In the film, it is revealed that Irene faked her death and that her daughters think that she died in a fire along with their father. Because of this lie, Irene has been forced to stay away from her daughters, although she keeps an eye on them from a distance. Furthermore, she has become a prisoner within Aunt Paula's home; Irene moved in with Raimunda's aunt when her health began to deteriorate and she needed someone to help care for her. Because of the communities belief that she died in a fire with her husband, Irene cannot go out in public and is forced to live within the confines of Aunt Paula's home. When Aunt Paula dies, Irene is forced, once again, into seclusion. This time, she uses her daughter, Soledad, to help her remain hidden from the world. By doing this, Irene makes Soledad a prisoner of the truth. Additionally, when Irene moves from Aunt Paula's house into Soledad's apartment, she is simply giving up one prison for another as she cannot reveal her identity to others, especially if everyone is under the belief that she is dead. In order to keep Irene's presence at Soledad's apartment a secret, mother and daughter conspire to hide Irene in plain sight; Soledad is able to convince the clients she services from an illegal hair salon in her home that Irene is a newly hired Russian assistant. Irene's transformation is seen through a change in her appearance; while she was living with Aunt Paula, she did not have to care about how she looked because she could never leave the house, however once Aunt Paula dies, Irene cuts and dyes her hair and begins to wear more formal close, as opposed to the housedress she wore while in seclusion.
The women in Volver are able to break free from their bonds by telling the truth to those that they lied to. For instance, Irene is able to show her face to her daughters and confesses that it was not she that died with their father in a fire, but rather his mistress. Once the truth comes out, Irene no longer has to hide and is able to go out in public. Additionally, when Raimunda reveals the secret about her rape and the paternity of her daughter, Paula, Irene is able to realize the monster that her husband was. The revelation of this truth brings the two women together through a mutual understanding of each other's suffering.
On the other hand, the women or female characters in Todo Sobre Mi Mama are pigeonholed into various social constructs, in addition to being prisoners of the truth. In Todo Sobre Mi Mama, Manuela, a nurse at a hospital in Madrid is forced to suffer tragic ramifications due to her secret. In this narrative film, Manuela's secret does not necessarily make her a prisoner within a building or home, but rather makes her an emotional prisoner.
In the film, Manuela is a single mother who has kept the identity of her son, Esteban's, father hidden from him. Despite the fact that Esteban tries to get Manuela to talk about his father, she does not and thus keeps Esteban confined from the truth. Esteban is never able to escape this prison of ignorance that was constructed by his mother and is killed before his mother ever had the opportunity to reveal the truth.
Through Esteban's death, Manuela is forced to take a journey to find Esteban's father, a transsexual named Lola, who never knew she had a son. Like Esteban, Lola has become a prisoner of ignorance because of Manuela's lie (Amodovar, 1999). In her journey to try and find Lola to tell her the tragic truth about the death of their son, Manuela gets sucked into caring for Rosa, a nun who happens to be pregnant by Lola. Because Rosa is a nun, she can also be considered to be a prisoner of religion; because of the constraints of religion,…