by Chris Connor
Pedro Almodóvar is one of the most singular voices working today having won a legion of fans globally and won numerous accolades including two Oscar wins. He is noted for his distinctive use of colours and tackling a range of topics but often with a focus on women, sexuality and motherhood. His latest film Parallel Mothers is his first since the hugely successful semi-autobiographical work Pain & Glory in 2019. This marks the 7th film on which Almodóvar has worked with Penélope Cruz.
Parallel Mothers focuses on the relationship between two new mothers Janis (Cruz) and Ana (Milena Smit), who meet sharing a room in the maternity ward and strike up a kinship. Janis is excited by the prospect of motherhood, having given up hope previously of becoming a mum, while Ana in her late teens is more apprehensive and hesitant about this huge change for her life. Constructing the film around the intergenerational relationship is an intelligent conceit with Janis’s warmth and maturity offsetting Ana’s disruptive home-life and naturally more naïve outlook.
The acting between the pair is so natural and the scenes where Janis is showing Ana how to cook an omelette or peel potatoes offer some of the film’s most simple delights, revelling in the close relationship and shared situation that has brought together these two women who on the surface have little in common.
Cruz’s performance, in particular, has been singled out for much praise and it is true that she often excels most in collaboration with Almodóvar earning an Oscar nomination for Volver. Here she is doggedly determined to uncover a historic war grave from the Spanish Civil War while looking after her young child and the emotional depth Cruz is able to bring to the role is remarkable as the film deals with tragedy for both women. Of course, Cruz isn’t the only standout performer and Milena Smit is a fine foil excelling at showing Ana’s unhappy home situation and the comfort she takes from her blossoming friendship with Janis.
The Spanish Civil War plotline, in which Janis is seeking to uncover a mass grave in her home village that contains her great grandfather, is mostly addressed in the opening and closing moments of the film, bookending it however it is more than a mere afterthought, making this a rumination on generations past while celebrating the present and future. It is also a stark reminder of the continued effect the tragedy has on the Spanish community and Almodóvar clearly has the many families affected close to his heart.
If its pacing can at times be frenetic this is a film worth seeking out for its lead performances with Penélope Cruz excelling in one of her best lead roles in recent years showing the continued strength of her relationship with Pedro Almodóvar and her ability in her native Spanish that is perhaps lost in her English language work.
Parallel Mothers feels more restrained than some of the directors more bombastic work like Women on The Verge of A Nervous Breakdown, but this doesn’t make it any less impactful and his ability to frame a scene and the use of colour are as strong as ever. Over 40 years into his career he has hit one of the strongest stretches of his career and Parallel Mothers is a further impressive study of womanhood in a career full of films that capture the experience so vividly.
Parallel Mothers is out in cinemas now