Connect with us

Criterion Collection: All About My Mother (1999) | Blu-ray Review

Pedro Almodóvar’s most exquisitely dramatic and compassionate film All About My Mother arrived in the final year of the last century, a supercharged queer and feminist homage to maternal instincts and the bonding salve of femininity. On paper, it features a plot which sounds like the soapiest of Sirk mixed with the most lurid of telenovela and yet, as a testament to the writer/director’s mastery, it’s a vividly joyful odyssey of fluctuating emotional tones.

The title was the first of Almodóvar’s films to compete in Cannes, winning him Best Director and taking home the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In essence, a transitional juncture for the director, marrying his lavish, outré energies with maturing, increasingly layered narratives, it’s a film which excels on several fronts with its roundelay of subtexts positing femininity as the hopeful conduit for the fluidity required to achieve contentment. At the same time, it serves as a reminder of how the theater is a reflection of the constant, Sisyphean performance of day to day life and how our reactions to shifting energies delineate their differences.

Argentinean actress Cecilia Roth stars as Manuela, a single mother whose 17-year-old son Esteban tragically dies in a car accident while trying to nab an autograph from stage actress Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes) following her performance of Blanche in a touring production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Returning to Barcelona, a city Manuela fled after becoming pregnant with Esteban, she seeks out the boy’s estranged father, a transfeminine woman named Lola (Toni Canto). Reestablishing herself in her old haunts, Manuela tracks down Agrado (Antonia San Juan), a trans sex worker who used to work with Lola. Resolving to find work alongside Agrado off the streets, a chance opportunity for Manuela comes along when she becomes the personal assistant to Huma, in town for her traveling theater production. A mélange of All About Eve, Streetcar and Federico Garcia Lorca provide complex web of intersecting storylines in this vibrant milieu of motherhood, sexuality and desire.

All About My Mother pays homage to many themes and inspirations, from Truman Capote to Boris Vian, Bette Davis and Vivien Leigh but really it’s a melodramatic pastiche of Douglas Sirk sentiment, albeit a tour de force in the canon of other proteges inspired by his Hollywood women’s pictures, such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Todd Haynes and John Waters. A sensuous display of colorful palettes to reflect the vivid emotional undertones, Mother was lensed by Affonso Beato (fresh off their collaboration on 1997’s noir Live Flesh). A compendium of melodramatic flourishes, it is perhaps one of Almodóvar’s most outlandish but emotionally authentic calibrations, exploring themes and motifs which he’d often return to, though often under more labored circumstances, such as 2015’s Julieta, another combination which instills mother and child in what plays more like romantic entanglement than familial discourse.

A trio of superb Almodóvar regulars include Cecilia Roth (in perhaps her generous Almodóvar appearance), Marisa Paredes and Penelope Cruz, all who get some scenes stolen by the director’s real comedic discovery, here played by Antonia San Juan as a matter-of-fact, effortlessly enjoyable sex worker.

Film Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Click to comment

More in Disc Reviews

To Top