Pay close attention while viewing because there’s a lot more going on in “Parallel Mothers” than meets the eye. The story pulls you in right away, and you’re following the yarn to its most likely destination, yet as it unspools, it gets deeper and deeper.
Before long, what seemed like a sweet story about two first-time mothers meeting and getting to know one another becomes so much more. You find yourself observing the juxtaposition of birth in the present day to death in the past. During the Spanish war in the 1930s, more specifically. Yes, it’s a movie about motherhood and everything that comes with it, but it’s what’s woven in that makes this quite the treasure.
The writer and director of the film, Pedro Almodóvar, opened his movie in 2016 in Madrid. Janis (Penelope Cruz), a photographer, hires a forensic anthropologist named Arturo (Israel Elejalde) to help her find a mass grave. It’s suspected that several members of her family and the great-grandfather she never got to know were buried in a nearby grave they were forced to dig themselves. She’s helping people in town find their loved ones, as well. Janis, named by her hippie mother after Janis Joplin, passes on some information that was procured from her grandmother. This information is the area where she thinks the grave is. Arturo believes she’s right.
Janis desperately needs him to excavate so they can bury their loved ones properly. Arturo is more than happy to take the job but can’t do it alone. He needs a team. He belongs to the Association for the Recovery of the Historical Memory. He is particularly interested in her town as it dates back to the first days of the war, but getting around the red tape will take time. In the meantime, Janis and Arturo, a married man, get to know one another. Nine months later, she’s in the hospital about to give birth to his child. She’s in the room with a younger woman named Ana (Milena Smit), for whom she begins to dialogue. Cruz is fabulous as Janis and looks incredible, but Smit is, in almost every way, her equal. We’ll be seeing more of her.
The women bond over both having their happy little accidents and being single to boot. It isn’t long after meeting that the two women deliver daughters into the world.
We then get to know Ana’s situation more and the relationship she has with her parents, especially with her mother Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). Teresa is an aging actress who would not let anything come between her and a good part, let alone her child or grandchild.
Your heartstrings are pulled a few times and you question exactly which is story A and which is story B, but it’s because of this that you stay engrossed. For a time, Ana and Janis end up living together. During this time, Janis is doing some research that, unbeknownst to Ana, she’s a large part of.
It’s upon the discovery of what this admirable research is for that puts this story into the moving category that it drifts. Whether you see an obvious twist coming or not doesn’t change that this is a complicated situation for Janis. How she will handle it depends on her true character. How she does deal with it all stems from what she and her family have been dealing with for decades. By the way, the last shot of the film is one you will not soon forget.
“Parallel Mothers” from Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Stars:Penélope Cruz, Rossy de Palma, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde
Running Time: 2h 3m
*Original title: Madres paralelas