director: Pedro Almodovar (the skin i live in, bad education)
starring: penelope cruz, milena smit, israel elejade, and rossy de palma
REVIEWER: nick tonkin
Two single women meet in a hospital room where they are both going to give birth. One is middle aged and doesn't regret it, while the other is adolescent and scared. The two women form a strong bond with one another as they both confront motherhood.
Parallel Mothers is a Spanish drama written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, led by an excellent Penélope Cruz that explores the connection forged between two expectant single mothers who give birth on the same day. This would come to indelibly change and complicate the course of their lives in ways they could never have expected.
Parallel Mothers centres on Penélope Cruz’s Janis, a middle aged photographer who meets noted forensic archaeologist Arturo on a photoshoot, and asks of him if he and his foundation would consider excavating a mass grave outside of her home village, where her great-grandfather was killed during the Spanish Civil War. Over time, a connection between Janis and Arturo grows, resulting in her pregnancy; remorseless and jubilant, she decides to carry and raise her baby on her own. Later, while heavily pregnant and waiting in hospital, she meets the young and similarly pregnant Ana. Scared of her future and feeling estranged from her parents, Ana is in need and Janis listens, providing encouragement and guidance.
Penélope Cruz is fantastic here, her performance is riveting and decidedly realistic. Making the most of a script that lays the groundwork for an interesting character, she transforms Janis into a real person who is understandable and that we can empathize with.
Impressively, all of the film’s characters benefit from both great performances that bring to life Almodóvar’s interesting characters. If I can co-opt and define a term to explain how these characters feel, it would be something like “hopeful realism”; meaning that where characters are understandable in their behaviors, they temper their choices to reflect a concern for the lives and experiences of others, whether or not such consideration of another is deserved, or would cause pain to the character themselves. This is to say that the film avoids melodrama and vitriol, which is much to Parallel Mothers credit.
Shot with creativity and care, Parallel Mothers' conversations feel engrossing, with transitions at times utilizing a technique to great effect of darkening the scene to just the lit subject before fading to black entirely. Combined with a score that accentuates the tension, or poignancy in these moments, the film is entirely engaging on a formalistic level and well as an emotional one.
Parallel Mothers is a compelling exploration of the way a connection between two women has altered their lives. With interesting characters and wonderful performances, especially from Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers shows that director Pedro Almodóvar’s skill hasn't yet been dulled by either age or success.