Film Critic Cerys Gordon reviews Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film Parallel Mothers, believing it to be a fresh and feminist look at turbulence, history and relationships
The esteemed Pedro Almodóvar released his newest Spanish-language film Parallel Mothers on the 28th of January 2022, in the United Kingdom. A film in the making for almost 20 years, it previously opened the Venice Film Festival of 2021. This sometimes steamy, heated and complicated melodrama features the mesmerising Penelope Cruz and new star Spanish actress Milena Smit. The two mothers, Janis (Cruz) and Ana (Smit), meet in a hospital room after both giving birth for the first time. One is an older mother, who is happy to have given birth as she has always wanted a child, whereas the other is a young and scared teenager who regrets having her child. This film follows both their journeys, separately and together, as they venture through the everchanging paths of motherhood. However, like many of Almodóvar’s films, this journey through motherhood is not as straightforward as it may seem. This film has many unforeseen happenings that viewers would never be able to predict, which is one of the thrills of a Almodóvar film.
The film is set mostly in bustling Madrid, a beautiful backdrop that reflects the busy and complicated storyline. There are also takes in more rural places in Spain such as scenes shot in Torremocha de Jarama, a municipality of Madrid known for its historical significance and medieval villages. This location could reflect the vulnerability and loneliness of their characters though the journey of motherhood which is shown throughout this film. However, the underlying message of Parallel Mothers is one of empowerment and support of one woman to another at an uncertain time in both of their lives.
Janis is a photographer who seems to have quite a control over her sometimes chaotic life. The film begins with her seeking the help of an archaeologist, played by Israel Elejalde, regarding ten bodies in an excavated grave. With this clever subplot, this film also delves into Spanish history in regards to the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. This gives the film a larger significance that travels further than the main plot that follows the two mothers. The Spanish Civil War saw around 200,000 casualties due to combat-related causes and led to the formation of the perilous Franco dictatorship that killed thousands of Spanish people. This underlying message gives further meaning to the film, a tragic regime that Almodóvar would have known would strike a personal message both to himself and the Spanish audience. Throughout the film, Almodóvar not only explore the relationship between the two mothers, but also delves into other more strained relationships. Ana has a complicated relationship with her mother and father, and at times becomes totally independent from them as a single mother. One would argue that Ana’s character development becomes central to the film’s plot, as Janis helps her become more independent and self-sufficient – almost taking the role of her mother.
Milena Smit, who plays Ana, is an up and coming actress that previously starred in Cross the Line (2020). Her and Cruz have incredible on-screen chemistry, which makes the viewer invested in their journey not only as individual characters, but also together. One can expect to see Smit’s career blossom after her role in Parallel Mothers. Ana’s mother (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) is an aspiring actress who is fulfilling her dream later on in life, as she had to care for Ana whilst she grew up. However, she still abandons her daughter when she becomes a mother, leaving her to deal with a range of challenges and tragic events alone. This is where Janis takes her into her home and gives her a job and a place to stay, and the two contrasting mothers support one another throughout. Janis holds the burden of something she has discovered, and faces a huge dilemma. Trust and communication are huge themes throughout the film with differing characters. Parallel Mothers is Almodóvar and Cruz’s seventh film together, their first being Live Fresh all the way back in 1997. Cruz has achieved her fourth Oscar nomination for her role as Janis in Parallel Mothers which says enough in itself about her strong performance in Almodóvar’s most recent motion picture. Almodóvar and Cruz have a lot to owe to each other through their careers, and Cruz never fails to bring Almodóvar’s brilliant yet abstract ideas to fruition, and successfully at that whilst filming in 2021 mid pandemic.
For the 72 year old director, Parallel Mothers is a fresh, feminist, complicated and beautiful mix of turbulence, history and relationships. It showcases Almodóvar’s talent as prominent director even so far into his cinematic career. One of his best films and one to watch, which will not fail to surprise the viewer at every turn.
Parallel Mothers is out now in cinemas
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