VOD film review: Parallel Mothers
James R | On 27, Mar 2022
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde
Pedro Almodóvar has long been one of cinema’s most consistent and interesting chronicler of female experiences. The fact that he’s an award-winning male filmmaker, with all the privilege, funding and public awareness that comes with it, doesn’t detract from his witty, sumptuous, playful tales of motherhood, sisterhood and underdogs on the fringe of society.
Almodóvar’s 22nd feature film sees him reunite again with Cruz, who has worked with him in such gems as Live Flesh and Volver, and it echoes themes from each, as it finds the director contemplating past, present and the future, both on a deeply personal and a wider social level.
Cruz plays Janis, a successful photographer who ends up accidentally pregnant after she crosses paths with Arturo (Israel Elejalde). He’s an anthropologist excavating the suspected hidden grave of those killed in the Spanish Civil War, something that Almodóvar lets percolate in the background while he gradually turns up the tension from a simmer to the boil. While in the hospital to deliver her baby, Janis meets a teenager called Ana (Milena Smit), who also had no plans to become a mother in the way she did.
A confidently casual time-jump later and we find Janis and Ana fortuitously find each other once more, and things strike up a decidedly different tone. Almodóvar’s script is more Hitchcockian thriller than comedy, with a splash of stylish melodrama, and the twisting nature of the two mothers’ connection makes for a brilliantly provocative affair. It’s powered by two phenomenal performances, with Cruz emotional, duplicitous and honest simultaneously, at once pained and posed to make amends. Milena Smit delivers a star-making turn as Ana, who grows into her own woman the more the film continues. They get strong support from Israel Elejalde as uncertain father Arturo and a brilliant Aitana Sánchez-Gijón as Ana’s mother, an actor who prioritised her work over her daughter.
The result is a melting pot of questions about how yesterday feeds into today, a mature meditation on the need to reconcile unspoken history before people can move forward. In another filmmaker’s hands this could be heavy-handed, but Almodóvar’s playful touch – amplified by Alberto Iglesias’s gorgeous soundtrack – takes us from the haunting, dark legacy of a nation’s past to living room curtains wafting with suggestive, swooning humour. It’s a dazzling tale of love and loss told with warmth and flair. Can we have Almodóvar’s 23rd film now please?