Criterion Review: ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (1999)

Pedro Almodóvar’s Oscar-winning ode to maternal love and self-discovery enters the Collection with a director-supervised 2K restoration

I was introduced to Pedro Almodóvar’s work through a double feature of 2011’s The Skin I Live In and 2006’s Volver. Both films were a magical burst of primary-color emotion, infusing the everyday with the larger-than-life emotions of Douglas Sirk melodrama and refusing to treat either aspect as greater or lesser than one another.

I was excited to rectify a major Almodóvar blindspot in All About My Mother with Criterion’s new Blu-ray restoration. The film follows Manuela, an organ donation coordinator who tragically loses her theater-loving son in a car accident after a Madrid performance of A Streetcar Named Desire. Without any purpose other than to tell her estranged, now-transitioned ex-husband Lola about their son’s death, Manuela searches for Lola on the streets of her former hometown Barcelona. Instead of her old family, though, Manuela finds a new one in trans sex worker Agrado, HIV-positive pregnant nun Rosa, and surprisingly Huma Rojo, the actress whose autograph Manuela’s son was hunting down when he was killed.

All About My Mother is shockingly progressive even for a turn-of-the-century film — Almodóvar depicts the struggles of his LGBT characters as authentically and dramatically as possible, with their identities and sexualities granting them greater depth without becoming the sole characteristic by which they are defined. Through its all-too-brief 100-minute runtime, Almodóvar explores a litany of complex themes — notably the families, societal roles, and even bodies we choose or that are chosen for us. Almodóvar finds strength in despair, unshakable love even in potent hate, and beauty in what others consider to be the detritus of society.

Ever since I finished the film, the image I keep returning to is of Almodóvar’s first shot of Barcelona — trapped in a nightmarishly dark train tunnel, a brief light appears at the end of a tunnel, followed by an aerial that crests a mountainside to see the city, a field of old Catalan gothic architecture awash with neon. It’s a moment of despair that gives way to relief amidst a soulful musical crescendo — that Barcelona, even in the midst of Manuela’s anguish, offers the possibility of renewal and deliverance. Much like the characters in All About My Mother, Barcelona is a city caught between past and present, with an identity that’s becoming more malleable by the day. What’s most amazing about All About My Mother, and how Almodóvar treats both his characters and setting, is that he isn’t compelled to shepherd his characters from one emotional or developmental state to another by the end of the film — rather, he accepts this state of transition as a status quo in itself, and in so doing encourages his characters to never be satisfied with things as they are. They become alive both in their acceptance of life, as well as their drive to change things for the better.

All About My Mother is the third and latest of potentially many Almodóvar films from Criterion — and the home video company has outdone themselves with their restoration of the film as well as a treasure trove of contextual supplements.


Criterion presents All About My Mother in a new 2K restoration from the original 35mm negative, which was supervised by Almodóvar and executive producer Agustin Almodóvar. The film’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track was likewise remastered from the original 35mm magnetic track.

The film’s vibrancy is well-preserved here — All About My Mother’s primary color palette pops in each frame, and for a film shot on 35mm there’s a surprising lack of grain without compromising overall image quality. The audio quality is rich and textured, with the piano, strings, and accordion of the score primarily on display without overwhelming the characters’ sharp-tongued dialogue.

Special Features

  • Once Upon a Time — All About My Mother: A 52-minute retrospective documentary about the making of All About My Mother, intercutting behind-the-scenes footage with modern-day interview.
  • Informe Semanal: A 13-minute television program that features Almodóvar’s return to his village of La Mancha to talk with his mother about her influence on his later work.
  • Versión Española: A 48-minute Q&A from a 2019 retrospective of Almodóvar’s filmography, featuring the director, Agustin Almodóvar, and actor Marisa Paredes. The crew discuss the lasting legacy of the film with their moderator and attending audience.
  • A booklet featuring an essay by University of Cambridge Professor Emma Wilson; a 1999 interview between Pedro Almodóvar and Frederic Strauss prior to the film’s Cannes premiere; and Almodóvar’s memorial to his mother, who died a few months after the premiere of All About My Mother.

All About My Mother is now available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Criterion.

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