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Review: Parallel Mothers

March 27, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Parallel Mothers is nominated for Best Actress (Penelope Cruz) and Best Original Score (Alberto Iglesias) at the 94th Academy Awards

Parallel Mothers, the latest film from Spanish master Pedro Almodóvar, follows Janis Martínez Moreno (Penélope Cruz) and Ana Manso Ferreras (Milena Smit), two mothers who give birth on the same day in the same hospital.

Janis is approaching forty, while Ana is an older teen still being looked after by her own mother (Aitana Sánchez-Gijon). The two women are sharing the same room in the maternity ward and bond over having unplanned first pregnancies. “I don’t regret it,” Janis says. “I do,” Ana responds, and from here their lives and stories continue to converge over the course of the film.

It’s not a criticism to say that Parallel Mothers operates in the space of melodrama, because that is what Almodóvar does so well. In his hands, the film’s melodramatic twists become almost operatic, tying in the outward themes of familial connections with his country’s history.

Janis is a photographer, and the father of her child is Arturo (Israel Elejalde), a forensic archeologist that she meets during a photo shoot. She asks him to exhume the grave of her great-grandfather, who was killed during the Spanish Civil War. The film weaves in a secondary plot about investigating the mass grave in her family’s village where his body was dumped and buried, and Almodóvar audaciously melds these two stories together.

That said, I do think Parallel Mothers is a bit more of a minor effort from Almodóvar, especially compared to his last film Pain and Glory. But, while it might not be his best work overall, this is still one that is crafted with a steady hand and fine performances. Almodóvar continues to show his strong eye as a visual stylist, from José Luis Alcaine’s cinematography to the colourful production design that we can expect from one of his films.

Cruz, in her seventh collaboration with Almodóvar, grounds the film through its many twists and turns with her nuanced and quietly compelling turn as a new mother. She serves as a powerful proxy for the filmmaker, who has directed her to some of her finest work in the past, revealing notes of grief and emotion through her highly expressive yet understated performance as Janis. The film ultimately serves as an engaging and well acted melodrama about motherhood and familial legacy from one of our finest melodramatists, that builds to a memorable final shot.

Parallel Mothers is now available for purchase on Digital platforms.

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