With a film called Parallel Mothers, it comes as no surprise that the film’s double narratives attempt to mirror each other. However, it would be so much more powerful if they managed to connect in some way.
Directed by Pedro Almodovar, Parallel Mothers tells the story of Janis (Penelope Cruz), a fashion photographer who becomes enamored with a forensic anthropologist (Israel Elejalde). After requesting his help to open a mass grave that contains the body of her great-grandfather, the two begin an affair that results in the birth of a child. While in hospital for their daughter’s birth, Janis meets Ana (Milena Smit), a young woman who also had gave birth at the same time. Young and impetuous, Ana immediately feels a connection to Janis and the two begin a friendship before they leave the hospital. However, when tragedy brings them back together, Janis and Ana become bound by a secret that threatens both of their families.
Once again, Parallel Mothers, Almodovar does what he does best by providing compelling stories with solid emotional arcs. By offering two very different storylines within the film, he has ample opportunity to explore the depth of meaning within the family dynamics and history of his characters. Unfortunately, however, Mothers struggles to bring these two ideas together and, as a result, often feels like two powerful films on their own separate paths. There’s no question that both stories are fascinating in their own right and create some fascinating scenarios worth exploring. However, held up against one another, the two plotlines simply fail to intersect, preventing the film from fully coming together.
In many ways, Janis is a character caught between two worlds. From the vibrant, urban city of Madrid to the ‘old world’ town where Janis grew up, these two settings are both stunning yet hold very different ideologies. When she’s at home, Janis celebrates the history and traditions of her family. However, as a fashion photographer in Madrid, she lives a modern life with an emphasis on the ‘now’. This emphasis on today is exemplified in young Ana who, although passionate and vivacious, shows little knowledge (or even interest) in what has come before.
Having said that though, Mothers is yet another example of the wonder that is Penelope Cruz. Now in her 8thfilm with Almodovar, she clearly feels comfortable with his style and she feels present in every scene. Even in moments where the film feels like it’s losing its way, Cruz remains captivating. Whether she’s pleading her case to claim her great-grandfather’s grave or grieving her relationship struggles, Cruz brings an inner strength and courage to her performance that makes her feel authentic.
Where the film’s primary stories do intersect however is in the idea of making communities whole again. As Janis fights for her great-grandfather’s grave to be exhumed, the exercise is not merely for her own personal well-being or interest. Instead, this is an activity that involves the entire community. Although younger townspeople like Ana struggle to understand the significance, the older generations feel like a piece of themselves is missing. To them, the discovery of the grave is a way to put their families back together. After decades of searching, the opening of the mass grave is an opportunity for communal healing.
At long last, their history has been recognized.
In a similar vein, Janis’ story with Ana is also an opportunity to heal the family unit. With the secrets of Cecelia’s parents weighing heavily upon her, Janis understands that she is the one withholding the family reunion. Wrestling with the personal pain that it will cause her, she must decide whether it matters more to restore a family rather than preserve her own way of life. In this way, Almodovar does manage to connect his storylines well as he reveals the perils of opening the doors to history, even if it means that it will bring healing as a result.
Led by the always intriguing Cruz, Parallel Mothers does provide some fascinating story opportunities worth exploring. Whether its digging up the past or attempting to lean into the future, Almodovar yet again shows a love for his characters and their personal history. However, one simply wishes that these storylines about two Mothers were a little less Parallel with one another.
Parallel Mothers is available in theatres on Friday, January 28th, 2022.