Receiving tremendous critical acclaim and the Best Foreign Language Academy Award, it is expected that many viewers would have lofty expectations of the film. While certainly differing from my expectations, "All About My Mother," written and directed by Spanish film legend Pedro Almodovar, this is a rather unconventional film, with fantastic characters, extremely enjoyable performances and an interesting plot.
The film focuses on Manuela, a nurse who works in the transplant ward of a Madrid hospital. After enduring considerable tragedy, Manuela returns to Barcelona, her former home, to face her past and fulfill the wishes of her son. In doing so, Manuela's life becomes intertwined with a prostitute, a nun, and an actress who is starring in a stage production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" a play which is in a number of ways paralleled by the film and which itself plays a large and important part in the film.
The characters which Almodovar creates are truly the gems of this film, as he creates strong and complex characters from all walks of life. Particularly the characters of Manuela's prostitute friend, Huma Rojo, the actress portraying Blanche DuBois in "Streetcar" and Rosa, the nun who becomes closer to Manuela as they discover what they have in common, really drive the film. The unconventionality of these characters and of the film's plot keep the film interesting and unpredictable. One of the truly enjoyable scenes of the film is the scene in which La Agrado, delivers an impromptu monologue on the high cost of "being authentic" with a body part by body part break down of the various cosmetic surgeries to transform her body.
The performances in the film complement and flesh out the characters of the film. The performances of Cecilia Roth and Antonia San Juan stand out. The portrayal of La Agrado is truly one of the highlights of the film. Penelope Cruz, the Spanish actress who is on the verge of making it big in the United States (she is in the upcoming "All the Pretty Horses" and has already made the cover of GQ magazine) puts in a decent performance as Rosa, but is outdone by a few of the other actresses here.
This film is not necessarily for everyone. The plot involving prostitutes and transvestites, death and complex personal relationships may turn off some viewers who might have an aversion to such topics. Also, although neither a long or slow moving film, most of the plot development occurs within the characters. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to miss this film, which is definitely worth renting.
All About My Mother is presented in Anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, as well as a "Matted" version on the reverse side of the DVD. The transfer of the film looks quite good and the film makes great use of the widescreen format, providing a black background for the English subtitles displayed in the bottom of the screen. Unlike other foreign language films featured only in fullscreen, there is thus no interference between the film and the subtitles and they are always easy to read. The colors and flesh tones of the film appear fairly crisp and true.
All About My Mother is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish language and Dolby Digital 2 Channel Spanish Surround Sound. The sound of the film has been transferred well, and there is no need to adjust the volume at any time during the film in order to enjoy this film. Bonus Materials
The DVD features a 20 minute interview with Pedro Almodovar, recorded in January, 2000 and a short Behind the Scenes featurette. The interview with the director, conducted by a Film Professor from Columbia University is in English and rather interesting. While the discussion focuses mainly on the origins of the story and its characters and the making of the film rather than the content of the film itself, it is quite interesting and a nice addition to the DVD. While a commentary by Almodovar would have been extremely enjoyable and would add a lot to the viewing experience, the interview provides the viewer with at least some insight into the genesis of the film The behind the scenes featurette is, unfortunately, too short to allow the viewer to get a true sense of the environment during the creative process of this film. Finally, the DVD contains talent files for Almodovar and the actors and actresses of the film. Final Thoughts
This film features great characters and an interesting plot and serves as an enjoyable introduction to the films of Pedro Almodovar for those previously uninitiated. I definitely recommend renting this film, and fans of Almodovar's work will likely wish to purchase it.