The story of two mothers who give birth the same day.
Pedro Almodovar is now into his 70s but is showing no signs of slowing down, with ‘Parallel Mothers’ his 22nd movie and his latest to feature regular collaborator Penelope Cruz. It tells the story of Janis (Cruz) a woman who has her first child in later life, and the significant bond she goes on to form with Ana (Milena Smit), a younger woman who has her child at the same time as her. Almodovar has long been one of the best in the business at telling stories about complex female characters from their unique perspectives, and ‘Parallel Mothers’ is another example of his skill in this space.
Melodrama is often seen as a dirty word in filmmaking terms, a word negatively associated with lifetime movies and soap operas, but there’s rarely been anyone better at handling this heightened form of dramatic storytelling than Almodovar. In ‘Parallel Mothers’, this is most apparent in the way the primary plot between Janis & Ana plays out with slightly over the top developments, all grounded by Cruz’s wonderfully naturalistic performance. I watched a lot of Almodovar’s back catalogue throughout the last couple of years and in comparison with them, I do think this, Cruz aside, sits as one of the more average movies, largely for a significant subplot relating to the Spanish Civil War that dovetails in and out of the main story when the plot demands it.
The recent past of Spain’s dictatorship hangs over proceedings like a spectre, but I felt it was a little jarring and doesn’t work alongside the core plot as well as intended. Every detour into this story acts as a distraction to the story of Janis & Ana, and I didn’t feel the parallels Almodovar attempts to draw between the past and the present worked for the movie as a whole. Almodovar of course was born during a time when Spain was still under Franco’s dictatorship and this may be a topic he wanted to personally explore, but I felt it may have sat better in a different film than in ‘Parallel Mothers’.
‘Parallel Mothers’ doesn’t quite find Almodovar on top form, although it does find Penelope Cruz at her best, and although I had issues with the screenplay, I did really enjoy the dynamic between the two mothers outlined in the movie’s title.
Directed By: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Julieta Serrano and Rossy de Palma