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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/15/02

All About My Mother
1999 (2000) - Columbia TriStar

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

All About My Mother

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/B

Specs and Features

102 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.66:1) matted version, double-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, exclusive interview: An Intimate Conversation with Pedro Almodovar, isolated film score, production featurette, director's production notes, talent files, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: Spanish (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

Fans of Pedro Almodovar know that there is only one word to describe his movies - Almodovar. His movies are an exuberant blend of comedy, tragedy and drama that always feature a good number of eccentric and well-written female characters. The brilliant All About My Mother is no exception and could very well be his best film to date.

Manuela (Cecilia Roth, in an incredible performance) is a dedicated and loving mother to her son. At seventeen, her son knows nothing about his father and doesn't often ask his mother to talk about it. He knows it's too painful a subject for her, but he is also all too familiar with the pain of not knowing this part of his life. On his birthday, she takes him to see a stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire and promises to tell him all about his father later that night. Tragically, her son is killed in an auto accident, and Manuela sets out to Barcelona to find his father and tell him what has happened.

Once in Barcelona, Manuela meets up with an old friend, a transsexual prostitute named Agrado (Antonia San Juan). Agrado agrees to aid Manuela in her search and also enlists the help of Rosa (Penelope Cruz), a pregnant nun who is at odds with her family over her lifestyle. While attending a production of A Streetcar Named Desire, Manuela wanders backstage to meet Huma (Marisa Paredes), one of the leads in the play. She is a fiery red-head and has a tempestuous relationship with Nina (Candela Pena), her co-star and love interest.

As far as the rest of the movie is concerned, I guess if you've seen Almodovar's films, you know that you can't anticipate what will happen next. Part of the joy in his films (aside from their visual appeal) is that they do not follow formula. There's no denying that his films are melodramatic, but they are so much more than that. Never once does Almodovar make light of his characters' situations. In fact, he finds strength in his characters and builds them up to be more than the sum of their problems. These are well-written characters, with just enough humor thrown into the equation to lighten up what could have otherwise been very drab, depressing subject matter. All About My Mother is an original and compelling piece of cinema.

All About My Mother is also one of the most beautifully photographed films of 1999, and this DVD provides a nice representation of that look. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is an impressive transfer from a source that is almost completely free of defects. I noticed only minor scratching in some of the more solid shots. There's a great deal of color in the film (as with most Almodovar films), with a predominant reddish look that never succumbs to over-saturation or color bleed. Black level is deep without being too harsh, and image detailing is always sharp without looking edgy or dull. The only real issue with the picture that I noticed was some shimmering in some of the outdoor scenes.

The flip side contains the film in a matted 1.66:1 version that also looks good. This version of the film looks like it's stretched a tad bit vertically. This, in combination with the matting, would lead me to believe that the filmmakers just wanted you to see as much of the picture as possible, if full-on letterbox is not your thing. All About My Mother is a movie that can best be appreciated by seeing the full theatrical image.

The DVD offers your choice of either Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1 Spanish language tracks. The 5.1 mix is representative of what a good dialogue-driven film should sound like. Dialogue is always audible and it is never compromised by an overactive effects track (note that English subs are available). Alberto Iglesias' moving, yet subtle, score is filtered through both front and rear speakers for a music track (also available as a separate audio track) that is engrossing and never overpowering. While the lack of an English language track may off-put some viewers, I am glad to see Sony stand by Almodovar's picture and present it with its original language track. A lot of the beauty of any film is hearing the actors deliver their lines, and that is something that can never be captured in an overdubbed dialogue track.

A small set of nice extras is also included in the disc. While I would have liked a commentary on the disc, the interview with Almodovar provides some detail and insight into the creation of All About My Mother. He is a man in love with the movies, and he talks at length (and sometimes very fast) about his film. The featurette is very brief, running only three minutes in length, but it's nice to get some feedback from the stars about the their experiences with the film and the director. Along with the previously mentioned isolated film score, there are some production notes in the DVD liner, and cast/crew filmographies. For some reason, the theatrical trailer is missing from the disc.

All About My Mother won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, but I believe it also to be one of the best films of last year. It's a story that can best be told only by Almodovar. He is a master of melodrama, and in his skillful way he is able to make these exceedingly unconventional characters seem nothing more than real people with genuine feelings. The DVD is not a special edition, but the few features it does have are a nice bonus and give even more reason for those who haven't seen this beautiful film a reason to do so.

Dan Kelly

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