"All About My Mother" ("Todo Sabre Mi Madre")
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Starring Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Penélope Cruz
Columbia/Tri-Star; widescreen (2.35:1) and full screen
Extras: Interview with Almodóvar, director's production notes, isolated music score
"All About My Mother" is the film where Pedro Almodóvar finally earned the praise that had been accorded misfires like "Live Flesh" or the nearly unwatchable "The Flower of My Secret." Reviewers had written about Almodóvar's new maturity though these movies lacked not just the naughty kick of earlier films like "Law of Desire" and "Matador" but their emotional rapture as well. The notes Almodóvar hits in "All About My Mother" are deeper and more resonant than in his earlier films and yet the plot fully indulges his outrageously soapy side.
I won't reveal that plot, not only because discovering the complications and convolutions for yourself are one of the movie's joys, but because it might induce vertigo. Suffice to say that it's set in motion when Manuela (the great Cecelia Roth) loses her son in an accident and leaves Madrid for Barcelona (a great excuse for Almodóvar to spend time with some of the city's insanely intricate architecture and interior design -- it's as if everyone who ever built anything in the city has been inhabited by the spirit of Antonio Gaudi). There, Manuela befriends an actress (Marisa Paredes) who played a part in her son's death and is now undergoing her own crisis, a young pregnant nun (the radiant Penélope Cruz) and her old friend, a tranny hooker (Antonia San Juan) who is the movie's most obvious delight. The movie isn't as much about women on the verge of a nervous breakdown as it is about women past that point discovering their own power to persevere. It's a movie in love with the self-created drama of actresses, the dramas his characters land themselves in and the very notion of women. It's a valentine that wears its frayed heart on its sleeve.
In the three-minute making-of featurette -- mostly a montage of behind-the-scenes footage -- Almodóvar says the movie is about the natural solidarity of women. It's not long, but it's eminently more interesting than the main extra, Almodóvar in conversation with film scholar Annette Insdorf, who manages to look eager while asking even the blandest questions. Almodóvar is a good interview, and he can take off from uninteresting questions. But it's a bit stupefying to hear him asked things like, "How did you get the idea for the movie?" "Do you change the script while shooting?" and "When did you discover the films of John Cassavetes?"
The best argument for the DVD of "All About My Mother" is the film itself. In "All About My Mother," more than in any other film since Jacques Demy's "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," color is emotion. And the DVD preserves (as VHS won't) the vibrancy of those colors. As in "Umbrellas" the bright (but never garish) candy tones are used first to denote the characters' happiness, and then the beauty of the world from which they are separated by their private grief.
The best "extra" moment belongs to Marisa Paredes who nails Almodóvar's movie when she describes it as "not so much about ordinary people as it is about life." And isn't that what we go to the movies for, to escape the ordinary and still find the recognizable?