Parallel Mothers: Only Almodóvar could tell such stories with wit, warmth and colour

Review: The Spanish director's new film wears its heart on its beautifully styled sleeve

Milena Smit and Penélope Cruz in Parallel Mothers

Film Title: Parallel Mothers

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Starring: Penélope Cruz, Rossy de Palma, Julieta Serrano, Milena Smit, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Israel Elejalde

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 122 min

Fri, Jan 28, 2022, 05:00

   

There is a certain class of twist, revelation and plot device that can only function successfully in a telenovela or in the films of Pedro Almodóvar. Parallel Mothers, in which two women meet in a maternity ward and give birth at the same time, uses its soapish premise – and many reversals – to simultaneously embrace the tragedy of the Spanish civil war, the joys of female friendship and the complexities of motherhood. 

In that spirit, the film constructs three very maternal types. Janis (Penélope Cruz) is a photographer living in contemporary Madrid, who, aged 40, becomes pregnant with the child of Arturo (Israel Elejalde). He is the married forensic archaeologist she hopes will disinter the mass grave where her great-grand-father and others were murdered by the Falangists. 

At the hospital, Janis meets another single mother, Ana (Milena Smit), a teenager with a disapproving estranged father and a career-minded mother, Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). When Teresa lands a major acting role in a touring production, Janis and Ana form a complex bond that is sometimes motherly, sometimes sisterly, and sometimes sexual. 

Cruz, who since Volver has delivered her best turns while collaborating with Almodóvar, remains understated against the melodramatic movements around her. An ensemble of the director’s reliables and regulars – including Rossy de Palma and Julieta Serrano – bring fun to a film with more than one sombre subtext. 

This delightful feature fits neatly with the director’s more circumspect mature oeuvre of Julietta and Pain and Glory while harking back to his earlier feminised comedies Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Volver. 

Parallel Mothers wears its heart on its beautifully styled sleeve. Even the dark excavation at the heart of the enterprise is delivered with wit, warmth and eye-popping colours. It is difficult to think of another filmmaker who could so effortlessly juggle tones and seemingly disparate elements.

In cinemas from January 28th