Spanish filmmaker and living film legend Pedro Almodovar continues to be an immaculate cinematic storyteller and fantastic director of women. He also guides the lovely Penelope Cruz (one of his finest muses) to deliver another luminous performance in his beautifully low-key 2021 drama Parallel Mothers. This compelling work not only explores the bonds linked between women and motherhood but also the aftereffects of a very traumatic period in Spain’s history.
Cruz is Janis, a middle-aged photographer who meets and finds kinship with morose teenager Ana (Milena Smit) after they both find themselves pregnant but deciding to be single mothers. Janis looks forward to being a mother, while Ana has reservations and fears about it. They give birth at the same time and form an even deeper bond because of it. They both have traumatic family histories. Janis’ great-grandfather was a victim of Franco during the civil war and buried in an unmarked grave. Ana deals with a complicated relationship with her theater actress mother (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) and the fact that she is a minor with a child. Janis’ child’s father (and married lover) is Arturo (Israel Elejalde), an anthropologist who is helping her to excavate her great-grandfather’s remains and give him and other victims a proper burial.
Meanwhile, after a DNA test, Janis discovers that Cecilia (her daughter) isn’t hers, and that Ana is her mother. Anita (Ana’s daughter) is really hers. This is because of an accidental switch up at the hospital where they first met. When the two reunite at an outdoor cafe, she doesn’t immediately reveal the truth. However, Ana unfortunately has some sad news of her own, where she tells her that Anita died a crib death. To even further complicate things, they grow closer and end up in a sexual relationship. Janis, feeling that she can no longer keep up the charade, tells Ana everything. This causes Ana to leave and take Cecilia with her.
Ana instantly apologizes and wants to make amends. They give their friendship another try, and Janis can see Cecilia as often as she wants. In the end, Arturo and his group dig up Janis’ great-grandfather and the other victims. She is now able to finally have peace and look forward to the future.
Of course, this film has several twists and turns, as well as Almodovar’s trademark melodrama, which can turn off some people, but personally, I think that’s what keeps the story flowing. There’s enough character development and emotional risk that makes it highly compelling, just like his past films. The women in his films are characteristically flawed but strong and Janis is no exception. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s Cruz playing her, which makes it one of the most defining roles/performances of her career. There is also a revelatory role/performance for Smit. She gives Ana a perfect mix of vulnerability and determination and is the perfect partner for Cruz to play off of. Also, look for solid supporting work from the always great Rossy de Palma (another iconic Almodovar regular) as Janis’ agent/good friend Elena.
The film itself is another example of Almodovar’s typically extraordinary filmmaking gifts and proves that he’s still got it. I wouldn’t expect anything less.
The Blu-ray just has a trailer and previews (including Jockey, Julia, 12 Mighty Orphans, and Mothering Sundays).