I realized during the three years I’ve been running this site that, strangely enough, I never recommended anything by Pedro Almodóvar, so let’s make up for it today with his latest (so far) movie from 2021, Parallel Mothers.
As usual for the Spanish director and screenwriter, the plot has an intensely feminine soul in the two figures of Janis and Ana, who end up in the same room within minutes of delivering their babies.
Janis is a grown woman and a famous photographer who becomes pregnant after a chance affair with Arturo, an anthropologist who must organize an excavation in her hometown, where numerous civilians, killed by General Franco’s fascist death squads, lie buried in nearby fields.
Instead, Ana is a young girl still living with her mother, Teresa, after the father throws her out of the house to avoid a scandal about how some boys abused her.
Although extremely different, they become friends in the pain of childbirth and later promise to stay in touch.
Sometime later, the situation is no better for either of them: Ana is home alone while Teresa pursues her dreams of being an actress around Spain, while Arturo refuses to accept the paternity of Janis’ son, claiming that he looks nothing like him.
Offended and hurt, Janis then performs a DNA test and uncovers a disturbing truth: not only is the child not from Arturo, but she is not even his mother.
Realizing then that there must have been an exchange between the cribs and Ana’s newborn, she tries calling her, only to discover the girl’s baby tragically suffocated in his sleep.
At that point, Janis must decide whether to raise a child not her own or tell her strange new friend the truth and accept that her real child is dead.
An epic portrait of ordinary life
Amid the myriad of reviews on Pedro Almodóvar‘s cinema, a recurring criticism laments that the movies he has made before are always better, as I also read about 2021’s Parallel Mothers.
Personally, I am not inclined to compile rankings between different movies, even less when they are the work of the same auteur. Yet, the venerable Pedro stays loyal to his successful recipe, the very one that launched him into the elite of beloved directors.
His artistic approach, so recognizable and distinctive, succeeds in renewing with surprising freshness with each new creation, even when the premise may seem simple, almost trivial: two women, one young and one mature, come together in the face of the same adversity.
However, from this foundation, Almodóvar builds an unexpected friendship that develops into a much deeper and unbreakable bond, enriching the plot with the usual skillful use of color in costumes and sets, full of life and passion as bold and original brushstrokes in each scene.
As always, we find the director’s deep love for his homeland, without this sentiment overshadowing the memory of the dark days of Fascism marking it, a historical legacy that is skillfully blended into the plot without ever lapsing into useless ideological propaganda.
Brilliant dialogue and irreverent tones pull these wonderfully delineated female and male characters inside ever-present social topics, unleashing a genuine emotional range, steeped in empathy and understanding for the complexities of family and couple relationships.
The twists and turns unfold one after the other in the style of a sci-fi political thriller, although the real magic is in telling the portrayal of ordinary people’s lives in everyday situations as simply and clearly as possible, revealing Almodóvar’s superb mastery of outlining humanity in the most authentic form.
The many mothers and daughters of Spain
In the contemporary urban habitat of modern Spain, the cast of actors chosen to flesh out the plot is of paramount importance.
The emotional focus of the play revolves around the powerful figure of Penélope Cruz, the real beating heart of the tale.
Indeed, the acclaimed Spanish star gives us an apex performance, an amalgam of charm, sensuality, and vitality through a facet range of expression that embraces melancholy, insecurity, and lonely fragility when the raw and unavoidable truth catches up with her.
An overwhelming display of pathos and interpretive energy, coping ardently with the absence of her baby’s father, played by Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, a man already bound in marriage to a woman afflicted by severe illness who comes and goes in her life, never really standing by her side.
As a counterpoint to Cruz’s magnetic figure, the intense young Milena Smit emerges, who may initially appear as a two-dimensional cliché of today’s youth into an adult-centric archetype.
However, her characterization gradually gains depth and complexity, especially when Janis and Ana’s life paths intersect and an unbreakable fusion occurs.
Here, we discover Ana’s tragic past, a painful and humiliating background the young woman faces with tenacity and resolve, cutting ties with a problematic family such as her nonexistent father (we don’t even see him) and her mother, played by Israel Elejalde.
Her role is twofold, as the actress plays the role of an actress placed in a weary and suffering theatrical reality.
In conclusion, it is a duty to pay tribute to Rossy de Palma as Elena, Janis’ loyal friend and colleague. Her stage presence is a radiance, a river of energy and joy that lights up each sequence like a colorful rainbow after a tremendous storm.