Set in pre-pandemic Madrid, Parallel Mothers, by veteran Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar, marks the high point in his collaborations with Penélope Cruz.
“Janis” (Cruz), 40 years old, and “Ana” (Milena Smit), 19-ish, are on the verge of giving birth. Strangers, they share a room in a maternity ward. Her kindhearted motherly instincts compel Janis to help Ana with the emotional and physical pain of labor. Ana’s own mother is less attentive, preoccupied with her own late-blooming career as a stage actor. A bond is forged between Janis and Ana. They agree to stay in touch after they’re discharged. Soon, baby “Cecilia” and little “Anita” head home with Janis and Ana, respectively.
A subplot here deals with missing bodies—some of Janis’ ancestors and others—victims of the fascist forces of Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. The scenes in which Janis is aided by a renowned archeologist in finding and excavating a mass grave are well-integrated in the overall film, if lacking somewhat in depth. Also notable, the score by Alberto Iglesias—modern, classical, unmistakably Iberian, and beautiful in its own right—evokes appropriate suspense and nuanced moods.
Almodóvar shows a love for human beings that’s almost peculiar in its authenticity, delicate depth, and insight. His steadfast muse, Cruz, is miraculous in her ability to exude emotional pain, fragility, resilience, strength, and vulnerability (the list goes on indefinitely) making characters like Janis utterly real. Thus does she allow us to really fall in love with them. Together, writer/director and actor might be today’s greatest filmic depicters of platonic and romantic love.
the international CRITIQUE rating: