Film review: ‘PARALLEL MOTHERS’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Splashed with vivid colour and featuring stories about relationships, solidarity and conflicts between women – particularly mothers and daughters – Pedro Almodóvar’s films are immediately recognisable.  HIs moving new film Parallel Mothers has all the unmistakable Almodóvar traits, but in exploring women’s lives this time, he links the personal and the political in a story about confronting the raw truth of history.

His muse, Penelope Cruz, once again stars, here playing photographer Janis Martinez who is working on a project to disinter the remains of people (including her great grandfather) killed by the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Her life changes dramatically when she discovers she is pregnant to her now-estranged boyfriend (Israel Elejalde) and approaching 40, is about to become a mother for the first time.  While she manages to successfully balance life as a single working mother, Janis’ world is upended by a heartbreaking revelation and an agonising dilemma.

The film is essentially a tense two-hander involving Janis and Ana (Milena Smit) the young woman who shared Janis’s hospital room and who comes to work as her nanny not knowing she has a deeper connection to her.  Like all Almodóvar films there are some soap operatic moments and times in which we’re unsure where the plot’s going but once again he hones the story into perceptive psychological drama. He even incorporates elements of a mystery with evocative music that recalls Bernard Herrmann’s scores for Alfred Hitchcock.

The subplot about the historical killing of Spanish citizens in the civil war is kept in the background for much of the film but when addressed more directly it’s profoundly moving.

While she’s played similar characters across many years in Almodóvar’s films, Penelope Cruz never fails to make them fresh, invigorating and emotionally complex.  Here, Janis is impassioned and authoritative about her work and its implications for Spanish history but emotionally torn by the circumstances surrounding her child and her relationship with Ana.  It’s one of Cruz’ best performances to date.  As the younger, less worldly Ana, Milena Smit has a potent screen presence giving her character a sense of inner turmoil.

As with most of Almodovar’s films this is an acquired taste and its appeal might baffle the unconverted.  Fans of the Spanish auteur will, however, revel in the visually striking, emotionally fraught and morally complex world he conjures once again.

Nick’s rating: ****.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Pedro Almodovar.

Release date: 27th Jan 2022.

Running time: mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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