All About My Mother/B+,B+

       Pedro Almodovar is in many ways a throwback to the directors of the 1930s and 1940s. The Spanish director is one part Douglas Sirk (Written on the Wind), two parts Clarence Brown (Anna Karenina, The Rains Came), with a little bit of William Wyler (Wuthering Heights, The Letter), all mixed together in a John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Pecker) cocktail shaker. Almodovar is hopelessly romantic, in a skewed framework. The characters that people his films are often outrageous and their behavior often crosses the borders of tastelessness. Yet, through it all, the writer/director maintains a sense of humor about his work, and boy, does he ever know how to make a movie look good.

Showing a little Streetcar along the way. ©Columbia

     All About My Mother is in many ways his most accessible film. The film screams out melodrama, and yes, there are the outrageous characters, but they act more tamely in this latest from writer/director Almodovar. Coincidence plays plays fast and loose with the characters and every action calls for a reaction. Manuela, a single mother, has her life come crashing down upon her. She returns to her roots and another life, tracks down an actress that has affected her life, practically adopts a pregnant nun, and rekindles her friendship with a transsexual streetwalker. Almodovar weaves magic fromt he ins and outs of his characters' lives. There are nods to films of yesteryear that Almodovar gleefully acknowledges, most notably All About Eve
     Almodovar has assembled fine actors for his melodrama. Cecilia Roth captures the screen and her audience in the role Manuela. Roth has the strength of the Hollywood classic hard lady, displaying a vital ability to survive. Almodovar regular Marisa Paredes plays actress Huma Rojo, a grand lady of the stage who is having an affair with a younger actress. Antonia San Juan plays Agrado, a typical Eve Arden 1940s role, a wisecracking sidekick with a warm heart and caustic style. Only San Juan is playing a transsexual. Penelope Cruz is the nun who has a very special relationship with Manuela.
     The cinematography is especially lush, with bright colors emphasizing the garish nature of characters and situations. The setting of Madrid and Barcelona are captured with authority and Almodovar keeps everything moving at hectic pace, lacing the melodrama with character driven comedy. All About My Mother received the Academy Award as Best Foreign Film of 1999.
     All About My Mother has been made into an outstanding DVD, the rich textures of the film elements transfering beautifully to video. Colors stand out cleanly with no edge bleeding. This DVD has plenty of pizzazz to match the glitzy film treatment. Contrast range is dynamic, blacks lush with night scenes sparkling. The Alberto Inglesias score is beautifully rendered on the Dolby Digital 5:1 mix. Yellow English subtitles  are easy to read and appear partially on the image and the letterboxed border. Included on the DVD is a short "making of" documentary and ant entertaining Pedro Almodovar interview interspersed with scenes from the film.




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