Manuela (Cecilia Roth) a nurse who works in a transplantation unit, witnesses the accidental death of her romantic son, Esteban, as he chases a car bearing the famous actress, Huma Roja (Marisa Paredes), from whom he wants an autograph. Esteban had longed to know about his absentee father, but his mother had always refused to tell him. His heart is transplanted, and Manuela is shattered by grief, leaves her work, and sets out to recover her past.

Obsessed with her son’s obsessions, Manuela trails the famous actress, Huma, who gives her a job. She finds old friends in the underworld, and a beautiful nun, Rosa (Penélope Cruz), who works with the poor and plans to go abroad. Soon it emerges that Esteban’s father is "Nina," a transvestite prostitute, and that Rosa is not only pregnant by him/her, she has also contracted AIDS.

Rosa’s austere mother was unhappy about her decision to become a religious, but she is even more horrified by her daughter’s pregnancy and illness. Initially reluctant, Manuela nurses Rosa and after her death, she adopts the infant son who is of course named Esteban.


A complex tale of love and grief, that challenges stereotypes of family, gender, and sex. The irony of seeing her own son become a cadaver donor speaks to the deepest fears of those professionals who make similar demands on the bereaved every day. Manuela finds a "family" among her tenderly comic, down-and-out friends. "We are all of us a bit lesbo," she says with a shrug, describing what she could not tell her dead boy: that she took his father back to her bed after he came home with breasts.

"A Streetcar Named Desire" is the play within the play in which Huma Roja is acting; when a member of the cast is too stoned to perform, Manuela successfully steps into the role. In becoming someone else, she becomes more herself. Some of the people initially seem selfish and cruel; yet, none are wholly good or bad.

For example, Rosa’s mother seems unreasonably angry, but soon we learn that her husband is suffering from dementia and needs constant attention; she wants Rosa nearby and healthy, not only to lighten her burden, but especially to give meaning to the future. Similarly, Nina is overwhelmed to learn of the existence of Esteban just as s/he must learn of his death; Manuela makes that mistake only once and brings Rosa’s baby to him. At the end, it appears the bond that Rosa’s mother establishes with her grandson and Manuela may soften without eliminating their shared pain of loss.


In Spanish with subtitles.

Primary Source

Columbia Tristar HomeVideo