PARALLEL MOTHERS is Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz’s Best Collaboration Yet

Inherited trauma bleeds through Almodóvar’s movie about memory and motherhood.

Actress Penélope Cruz and filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar have worked together on several previous films — All About My Mother and Volver, among others — but Parallel Mothers may be their best collaboration yet. Cruz leads the cast as Janis, a professional photographer approaching 40 who becomes pregnant by her married lover. In delivery, she shares a hospital room with Ana (Milena Smit, Cross the Line) and befriends the sheltered teen.

This is a very basic breakdown of the plot, but Almodóvar, as usual, has created a story with multiple levels and parallels. There’s even an uncertain timeline, which leaves the viewer guessing by the size of a child and a few quick glimpses of dates how much time has passed since the action of the film kicks off in 2016.

Inherited trauma bleeds through Parallel Mothers. From the start, we hear about the murder of Janis’ great-grandfather, along with other men in his village, by Franco’s regime. Her strongest desire, one shared by many in her hometown, is to excavate the field where they suspect the bodies were left in a mass grave. Janis is overly patient, self-aware, and focused. She isn’t easily rattled, although factors lead to her becoming so. Cruz brings a tenacity and warmth to the character; it’s easy to see how others are drawn to Janis.

Almodóvar chooses to explore different experiences of motherhood in the film: the mother whose husband was stolen from her life by a dictator; the mother who yearns for a career in acting and loses custody of her daughter; the mother whose child dies unexpectedly; the mother who can’t care for her child; and Janis, who loves her daughter but has certain doubts.

The insistent scoring by Alberto Iglesias plays like it’s written to accompany a psychological drama or thriller, reminiscent of something by Bernard Herrman. I honestly felt a tad misled by the score, expecting something horrifying to be just around the corner while the film actually leans more towards a classic melodrama. I could appreciate the musical choices more upon my second viewing.

The importance of community is central to Parallel Mothers, as women friends (such as Rossy de Palma, who plays Janis’ dearest friend) and neighbors care for each other. Israel Elejalde figures in as a love interest who also happens to be a forensic archeologist working on the mass grave, but the attention here is on the women left behind and the women they’ve raised. In this soulful film filled with unexpected twists, Pedro Almodóvar once again shows himself to be a filmmaker who knows the value of women’s voices and work.

Parallel Mothers opens theatrically in Austin on Fri, Jan. 21 at Regal Arbor.

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