All About My Mother
This Oscar-winning melodrama, one of Pedro Almodóvar’s most beloved films, provides a dizzying, moving exploration of the meaning of motherhood. In an instant, nurse Manuela (Cecilia Roth) loses the teenage son she raised on her own. Grief-stricken, she sets out to search for the boy’s long-lost father in Barcelona, where she reawakens into a new maternal role, at the head of a surrogate family that includes a pregnant, HIV-positive nun (Penélope Cruz); an illustrious star of the stage (Marisa Paredes); and a transgender sex worker (Antonia San Juan). Beautifully performed and bursting with cinematic references, All About My Mother is a vibrant tribute to female fortitude, a one-of-a-kind family portrait, and a work of boundless compassion.
Criterion presents Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother on Blu-ray, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a recent 2K restoration and has been scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Similar to the other Almodóvar titles Criterion has put out this looks just about impeccable. Similar to several of his films, this one is laced with bright colours, including bright reds, pinks, blues, and more, all of them just popping off the screen, and they’re all balanced wonderfully with superb saturation, no sign of bleeding or blooming present. Blacks are also rich and deep without impeding shadow detail. The digital presentation itself is clean, without any noticeable artifacts. Film grain is rendered gorgeously, remaining clean and natural throughout, and this lends to the image’s sharp detail.
The restoration work has cleaned up any damage that may have remained and I don’t recall any blotches or flaws. The film really isn’t all that old and I’d expect it to look good, but I still have to admit I was still surprised how well this has turned out. It looks striking!
The film comes with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack. The film is dialogue heavy and this aspect sticks to the fronts, primarily the center channel. Music and some background sound effects make their way to the other speakers and the mix is effective and smooth, but it never calls attention to itself. In the end its effective and suits the film perfectly.
A few special features get thrown on here, though disappointingly there isn’t anything (outside of the booklet) exclusively made for this edition. There is a rather good making-of documentary for the film, created in 2012, from a series called Once Upon a Time…, a series that not only aims to offer a detailed history of film’s production, but also works to fit the film into the context of the era in which it was made. Gathering interviews with Almodóvar, his brother Augustin, actors Cecilia Roth, Penelope Cruz, Marisa Paredes and Antonia San Juan, production manager Esther Garcia, and Didier Eribon. While the documentary does a great job covering its production, including Almodóvar’s own inspirations for certain aspects of the story, it’s best when it looks at the political changes in Spain after Francisco Franco’s death, and the loosening of the laws that outlawed homosexuality that would lead to Almodóvar even being allowed to make a film like All About My Mother. These are always pretty great and I’m happy Criterion was able to dig up one for this film. It runs a pretty breezy 52-minutes.
Criterion also digs up a segment—called Informe Semanal—from a Spanish television program from 1999. This 14-minute segment is ultimately a promotion piece for All About My Mother, but its charming aspect is that it features Almodóvar visiting his mother, showing us how she has inspired him while also getting to hear what she thinks of his films (her friends have told her her son’s films are “raunchy”). It’s a charming little segment and a great addition, but I think the next feature, a Q&A from 2019 after a screening of the film, delves more into the director’s influences. We get footage from the introduction and then footage from the discussion after the screening, which features both Almodóvar brothers (Pedro and Augustin) and actor Marisa Paredes. When they’re not promoting Pain and Glory the participants talk about the film and the two brothers get into more detail about their own mother and how she has inspired them and inspired some of the characters in Pedro’s films (Volver gets a heavy focus in this regard). The last 10-minutes of the 48-minute feature then opens up to the audience and there are a few questions about his work, but the one that opens Almodóvar up more in comparison to the others is when he is asked about where he sees cinema going, and though he doesn’t mention names or platforms specifically, he’s concerned about the move to online streaming and home viewing, and he paints a rather stark picture.
Despite nothing new or exclusive here the on-disc supplements still manage to be incredibly thorough, but the booklet tops things off nicely. On top of a nice essay on the film by Emma Wilson, there’s a reprint of a 1999 interview with Almodóvar around the film and its relation to the stage, whether it be how the film shows women acting in life and on stage (and there’s a conversation about a direct link to John Cassavetes’ Opening Night that I’m embarrassed to admit I missed), or other themes buried in there (including the heart transplant early on). The booklet then closes with a reprint of a lovely letter the filmmaker wrote about his mother (and all mothers really) shortly after her death in 1999. It ends up being a perfect way to close off everything.
Despite the lack of exclusive content (no new interviews, no commentary), the features still manage to be nicely rounded, looking at the film from a number of different perspectives, while also showing just how personal the film is to the director.
Just an all-around nice edition for the film, providing some excellent supplementary material and a rock-solid A/V presentation. Very highly recommended.