Written by: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Rossy de Palma
Women, in all reality, hold the keys to the past and future of humanity. They serve as the keepers of legacy while also physically producing the future generation, which evidently becomes the thematic resonance of Parallel Mothers. A film operating with a fairly melodramatic plot but through the direction of one of the current masters and an astounding lead performance, the heart worn on its sleeve makes for such a rewarding and emotionally potent viewing experience.
In hopes of potentially excavating a site where her ancestors may have been buried during the deadly Spanish civil war, Janis (Penélope Cruz) gets impregnated by her lover. After making friends with a young woman delivering on the same day as her, they reconnect sometime later when Janis begins to doubt the child she has is her own.
History and the future lay into much of what this narrative wants to take on and a large part of it comes with confronting the past in Spain. This feature goes into detail regarding the impact Francisco Franco had on Spanish families so many decades later. An idea and pain that never gets lost even when looking into the future, which certainly becomes a temptation for those wrapped into the throws of life. The importance of the excavation comes in and out of the narrative but it always hangs in the heart of Janis as she tries to find the appropriate balance of it all in life. It very much parallels how the average person lives their life but Janis has even more conviction on her part because of the brutality of what occurred to her ancestors.
Operating between two larger stories, Parallel Mothers works so well because of the woman at the center, Janis. Pedro Almodóvar has never failed in creating captivating female characters in his stories, in fact, he’s nearly a specialist at this point. His women, particularly his motherly characters always prove to be the heart and soul of his stories and the same could be said for what Janis does in this story. A woman constantly trying to do the right thing despite the large obstacles always thrown her way and who better to portray it all than the legendary Penélope Cruz.
Collaborations between Cruz and Almodóvar never fail and this feature is certainly no exception as they walk the tight balance between the melodramatic plot losing all emotional credibility to it becoming an absolute standout narratively. It all gets sold through the performance of Cruz, who plays everything in such an earnest manner that matches what Almodóvar wants to conjure up with this story. It goes with the title, in being a mother and the instincts that come with it. Cruz’s performance digs into the emotionally vulnerable aspects of being a mother, especially when doubts begin to creep in about various topics. With any film she’s in it becomes difficult not to effusively praise Cruz for her exceptional work and she achieves excellence once again in another Almodóvar feature.
The emotional beats of this feature can certainly be telegraphed throughout but the difference comes in the execution of it all and how these characters get grounded and humanized in a manner where their well-being becomes paramount to the viewing experience. We quickly grow such an affection for Janis and her journey where anything that would feel ridiculous in a lesser film comes with such a more earnest impact here. It all comes down to the characterization and what Almodóvar always manages to create in each of his features, emotional stakes. Every heartbreaking decision made in this narrative gets felt and when each character receives an emotional hammer blow, it comes with such a reverberation.
Whenever a new Pedro Almodóvar film gets rumored, my ears immediately perk up because I know we’re on the verge of receiving something fantastic. Coming off his most personal work to date in Pain and Glory he returns with another beautifully moving directorial vision. Continuing with the common themes of red and absolutely stunning production design, it proves he has not lost steam in what makes him one of the premier filmmakers in the world. It’s never too soon for another Almodóvar film and the man just continues to provide the goods.
Emotionally resonant, tightly composed, and wonderfully acted, Parallel Mothers definitely hits hard when it needs to. It takes a melodramatic plot but manages to make every emotional beat land in an affectionate and loving manner. It allows Penélope Cruz to shine once again as she does in every single Almodóvar film as they construct a wonderfully dual-purposed narrative merging the past and the future in a way many do not wish to reckon with. Getting these two together always makes for some tremendous entertainment and I hope they continue to make their incredible art together for many years to come.