This drama about the lingering trauma of the Spanish Civil War takes time to sink in, but it’s worth it
Two women meet in a maternity hospital and their lives become inextricably linked in the gentle but penetrating Parallel Mothers of Pedro Almodovar.
It’s a movie that, on one level, plays like a melodrama, with wild twists and turns that match soap opera cliffhangers. But there’s also something deeper going on, beneath the beautiful surface and basic pleasures of the plot and just looking at Penelope Cruz through Almodovar’s loving lens. Parallel Mothers, at the grassroots, talks about Spain and the lingering trauma of the Spanish Civil War, which robbed a generation of fathers, husbands and sons.
This loss haunts Janis de Cruz, an accomplished magazine photographer, who sets out to ask the forensic anthropologist she photographs if he would consider excavating the site where her great-grandfather and his peers were executed and dumped. under the regime of Francisco Franco. They know who is in the grave and where it is and for decades they have passed the story down hoping that at some point their ancestors will receive proper burials.
Then we don’t hear anything about this project for a while. It may seem at first glance that Almodovar is abandoning this plot of excavation fairly quickly. The anthropologist, Arturo (Israel Elejalde), is very handsome, Janis is starting an affair and the next thing you know, she’s about to give birth, on her own. But Almodovar is only patiently building layers of life that he will eventually bring back to that initial loss.
Although Arturo is not there to attend the birth of their child, Janis has a roommate, a teenage girl Ana (the fierce newcomer Milena Smit), who is also about to give birth without a partner. Janis wants a child. Ana no. Soon they find themselves in love with their daughters and begin to negotiate life with a helpless little attachment. Although they are both single mothers, they are privileged. Ana’s family is wealthy and Janis can afford a maid and a nanny at home. Even though this is all a bit fictionalized, Almodovar gives it room to breathe and it’s pretty realistic.
But of course things start to get complicated. Arturo doubts the child is his and Janis soon discovers that it is not even his. You can probably partly guess where this is going, but Parallel Mothers has more than a few surprises up its brightly colored sleeves. Dramatic turns are almost irrelevant, as throughout Almodovar also quietly planted a garden of family stories, non-traditional parenting arrangements, complicated mothers and absent fathers, and many losses. It is these details that build the film’s rich foundation. Particularly noteworthy is Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, as Ana’s actress mother, and would suit the complex mothers of another star of the year, The Lost Girl. And it is a magnificent showcase for Cruz. Hopefully she and Almodovar have more than a few other movies in them.
Parallel Mothers may not be as cinematic transcendent as its latest, Pain & Glory, and that may be in part because it was filmed during a pandemic, but its emotional core is no less powerful. although it is a little more subtle. This one takes a while to sink in, but it’s worth it.
Directed by Pedro Almodovar
With : Penelope Cruz as Janis, Milena Smit as Ana and Israel Elejalde as Arturo
Duration of operation: 122 minutes
Outing in Taiwan: To be determined
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