Review of Parallel Mothers: An Emotionally Complex Drama Bringing Nuance To Pedro Almodóvar’s
Penélope Cruz has brought to life countless women for Pedro Almodóvar, but Volver’s Raimunda stands out like a titan among them all. Her performance as a mother whose resilience knows no bounds earned her an Oscar nomination. Her puffed-up beehive seems to contain an entire universe of difficult wisdom and complexity. Parallel Mothers is the eighth film Almodóvar, and Cruz have made over the past four decades. Yet the heroine does not live under Raimunda’s shadow.
She’s a middle-class, liberal photographer from Madrid who wears a “We Should All Be Feminists” T-shirt. She gives birth to Cecilia’s child after having an affair with a married archaeologist (Israel Elejalde’s Arturo). Ana (Milena Smit), a forlorn-looking teenager, is her roommate in the hospital. The pregnancies were both unplanned – Janice does not regret hers, Ana does. After Janice reveals a secret about their two children, the beginning of their companionship grows into something more significant. In the film, Almodóvar’s choice of title is directly contradicted by how the two women cross paths together. You could call it an intersection of destinies or a union of feminine wills.
Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) is too busy with her acting career to care for Ana. Instead, Janice and Ana share the frame. As they sit opposite each other, their profiles are balanced to resemble an Almodóvarian Rubin’s vase illusion. Cruz seizes upon Smit’s vulnerability, but not necessarily weakness, with a kind of forceful, empathetic instinct. Although Janeice is far from saintly, Cruz’s effusive and open manner seems to radiate love towards the baby’s father, Cecilia, and Ana. Occasionally it can be chaotic, but it is pure. As a filmmaker, does that not define Almodóvar so well?
His insight of melodrama stays unchanged – when Janice and Arturo have sex, white curtains cover the open window with what appears to be the overwhelming force of their affection. Dramatic revelations come thick and fast and seem improbable. The production design of Antxon Gómez lavishes Janice’s life with the bold, primary colors of Spanish folk art.
Parallel Mothers does not suggest that, at the age of 72, Almodóvar is too content with his mastery of the form. There may be a little more minor transgression, but it’s been replaced instead by a more profound dedication. The filmmaker directly tackles the legacy of the Spanish Civil War for the first time in this film. Initially, Janice approached Arturo to help excavate a grave containing ten bodies in her hometown, all early victims of the Franco regime. Her great-grandfather is one of them.
Almodóvar ends his film by quoting Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano: “No history is mute. No matter how much they own, break, or lie about it, human history refuses to shut up.” It was not until 2007 that Spain’s Law of Historical Memory began the process of reckoning and resolution. As part of that process, mass graves have been identified and exhumed. Janice is the child of a single mother whose husband was taken out in the night and shot.
Parallel Mothers adds a new dimension to Almodóvar’s gallery of fearless women, suggesting their strength is not always their own. From the ashes of history, women have always had to rise and carry on.