A mid-tier Almodovar as he weaves a story of mothers and babies against a dark national history—it doesn’t always find a sure footing in terms of tone and theme, but the indelible performances and the auteur’s knack for creating suspense out of melodrama do help.
Dir. Pedro Almodovar
2021 | Spain | Drama | 123 mins | 1.85:1 | Spanish
R21 (passed clean) for some sexuality
Cast: Penelope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Rossy de Palma
Plot: Janis and Ana meet in a hospital room before giving birth. Both are single and became pregnant by accident. Janis, middle-aged, doesn’t regret it. Adolescent Ana is scared. A close link between the two blossoms, which by chance develops and complicates, and changes their lives in a decisive way.
Awards: Won Best Actress & Nom. for Golden Lion & Queer Lion (Venice); Nom. for 2 Oscars – Best Leading Actress & Best Original Score
International Sales: FilmNation
Subject Matter: Moderate – Parentage; Trauma; History; Mothers and Children
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: In Theatres – The Projector
I would consider Parallel Mothers to be mid-tier Almodovar, a tad better than Julieta (2016), but not at the level of Pain and Glory (2019), if his latest string of works may be compared.
Penelope Cruz (in a Venice Best Actress performance) returns, this time playing Janis, who strikes up a friendship with a younger woman, Ana (Milena Smit in what could be her breakthrough role), in a hospital where they give birth at the same time.
The circumstances that led to their pregnancies, however, were wholly different. The Spanish auteur weaves a story of mothers and babies, exploring the nature of biological parentage. But unlike, say, Naomi Kawase’s True Mothers (2020), Parallel Mothers is heavier and more psychologically unsettling.
Almodovar’s knack for creating suspense out of melodrama remains intact, but here he seems more ambitious as he attempts to set the narrative against his country’s dark history, as a parallel plotline about digging for evidence about the past (the consequences of the Franco regime) bookends the work.
“I have no doubts.”
Confronting Spain’s grim history is not an easy thing to do, particularly in a country that has largely chosen to forget.
However, the film doesn’t always find a sure footing in terms of tone and theme—one could argue that the segments alluding to historical context and memory may feel extraneous, though in the film’s final moments, it all seems to come together.
Whether the film is genuinely convincing remains a question for some. Parallel Mothers should ultimately do well considering Almodovar’s repute—he doesn’t pull off a sure-fire winner, but it should please most arthouse fans.
Alberto Iglesias, who in my opinion is one of the finest composers of his generation, also gets his fourth Oscar nomination for his delicate original score, his very first for an Almodovar picture after nearly three decades of fruitful collaboration.
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