A plot of many twists: Nia Griffith reviews Pedro Almodóvar's 'Parallel Mothers'
Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film is a beautifully shot and emotive study of motherhood and the legacy of the Spanish Civil War
Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film Parallel Mothers tells the story of two women who meet in a maternity ward as they are each about to give birth to their first child. They have become pregnant at different times and in very different circumstances in their lives. Janis (played by Penélope Cruz) is a well-established professional photographer touching 40, who is excited by her pregnancy. Ana (Milena Smit) is a fearful teenager, who is rejected by her father and neglected by her mother Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) – who is herself preoccupied by her own desire to take up a long-awaited chance to play a major theatre role. Although entitled Parallel Mothers, it is Janis who is the main protagonist, and we see a very fine, Oscar-nominated performance by Penélope Cruz, portraying Janis’ emotional turmoil as she copes with the implication of events.
Through Janis’ longing to establish the truth about how her great-grandfather died, Almodóvar sets the film against the emotive and controversial backcloth of Spain’s Historical Memory programme, which includes exhuming the bodies of victims killed during the Spanish civil war. This raises a controversial debate between those who want the difficult truth to be acknowledged and those who think it best it forgotten, a debate reflected in the restoration of funding for exhumations by the progressive coalition government in 2020, after it had been halted in 2011 by the conservative Popular Party.
Almodóvar cleverly holds our attention through the many twists and turns of the plot
Almodóvar cleverly holds our attention through the many twists and turns of the plot – albeit some that stretch belief – which he tells sometimes sequentially and sometimes in flashbacks or through revelation to others. He explores the intense emotions of the women, the dilemmas they face and their relationships to those around them – and, in particular, their feelings as mothers and towards their mothers, as they look both back and to the future.
But it is not just emotion. Through the events, Almodóvar confronts us with issues of identity, deceit, truth and the importance of coming to terms with the past, in order to face the future.
Towards the end of the film, it almost feels as if Almodóvar is running out of time as the denouement of the plot is revealed. But the film moves away from what the audience is left to imagine must be the intense personal impact of the events on the main protagonists, and back to the wider picture of Historical Memory exhumations.
To dispel any doubt about his message, at the end of the film, Almodóvar leaves us with the quotation from Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano: “No history is mute. No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth.”
Once again, an engaging film from Almodóvar with a convincing portrayal of women, beautiful cinematography – and a story to be enjoyed on different levels.
Nia Griffith is Labour MP for Llanelli
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
Broadcaster: General cinema release
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