Parallel Mothers (Madres Paralelas) (2021)

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Pedro Almodóvar gives us two tenuously connected stories, worth watching for the powerful performances of Penélope Cruz and newcomer Milena Smit.

Stylistically spinning between historical drama and telenovella melodrama, Cruz plays almost-40 Janis, earnestly trying to uncover the truth about her grandfather’s abduction and murder at the start of the Spanish Civil War. The path to discovery is through a dalliance with forensic pathologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde), where the story veers off into Janis’s unexpected pregnancy.

In labour, she meets teen mother Ana (Smit) and they bond over their shared experience – two women without partners, with absent mothers and both giving birth to daughters. No spoilers here, suffice to say that Janis and Ana’s lives connect, separate and then entangle in unforeseen ways.

Cruz fills the frame in every scene, giving a warmth and complexity to her character that helps keep you on board through some questionable decision-making and melodramatic coincidences. Smit is a solid co-conspirator, despite Ana being not as well drawn and acting primarily as a catalyst to Janis’s narrative.

The stress and strain of single motherhood is sometimes hard to believe where both have maids and nannies to help with the ‘exhaustion’. It’s one of several elements that feel like a man’s well-meaning view of woman- and motherhood (Janis’s t-shirt in the image above is a tonally-jarring case in point). Although it is occasionally refreshing to see Janis and Ana not succumb to maternal stereotypes, it doesn’t always feel authentic.

And then the ending brings us back to the historical lesson as if we are watching a completely different story. I get the connection, particularly in the context of ‘parallel mothers’ across generations, and the final scene of absent fathers and stoic mothers is strong, but it feels like you have wandered into a different film. Although overall Parallel Mothers is worthy, absorbing and memorable in parts, it feels a bit under-cooked.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts.

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