Parallel Mothers

I wonder when they are sitting across from each other at the dinner table at home, does it even pass through their minds the thought of who is the most talented actor/actress? I mean, there is a wealth of talent in the Penelope Cruz-Javier Bardem household. Javier Bardem has previously been nominated for three Oscar Awards and has won one for Best Supporting Actor in No Country for Old Men. Matching her husband, Penelope Cruz has also previously been nominated three times, winning once for Best Supporting Actress in the film Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Showing that they are completely in sync both Penelope and Javier have been nominated again this year. Him for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Being the Ricardos and her for Best Actress in a Leading Role for another spellbinding turn in the Spanish film Parallel Mothers.

One of the best partnerships in film has been the Penelope Cruz – Pedro Almodovar. They have worked on eight films together with Parallel Mothers being the latest. Their creative relationship has lasted an amazing 25 years and shows no signs of slowing down. She is most certainly his muse as is evident in films like Volver, Broken Embraces, Pain and Glory, I’m So Excited!, All About My Mother, Live Flesh, and Julieta. Nothing changes with Parallel Mothers. Apparently, he came to Penelope over ten years ago with the idea about this film and slowly but surely it came to fruition.

Here Cruz plays Janis, an almost 40-year-old woman who works as a photographer in Madrid. After beginning an affair with a married forensic archaeologist, Arturo (Israel Elejalde – Magical Girl, Smoke & Mirrors), she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. After a talk with her lover in which he tries to convince her this is not the right time to have a baby, Janis decides to have a go at motherhood on her own as her mother and grandmother did before her.

In the hospital, while in labour, Janis finds herself in the same room as an in labour teenager girl. The young girl is alone so Janis helps her out. Soon the two, Janis and Ana (Milena Smit – Cross the Line) have bonded over their common situations – first-time mother and doing it alone essentially. Once they have both given birth to baby girls the two go on with their lives, but an error and a secret are soon going to bring them back together.

I hold fast to my assertion that Cruz should avoid Hollywood films. they don’t really suit her. Or, more precisely, it seems like directors do not know what to do with her. She does so much better in European films. Here, she once again reminds us that her talent and beauty are a combination that glues your eyes to her when she is onscreen. Janis is a very complex character within a film which can only be described as typical Almodovar. Cruz naturally brings us into Janis’s world for this short time and it seems as natural as breathing for her to inhabit the skin of this woman. Inside she is feeling one way while on the surface she is showing another. Using all her skill as an actress, Cruz has to let us in on both the internal and external of this woman. A woman who has learned to lie to survive.

Parallel Mothers is a strange film. Not odd, but strange. It is part mystery, part film noir, and part history. Nothing about an Almodovar film is typical. He makes you work for things. That is what is so great about it, in that it keeps you working or guessing. The viewer who is willing to do this is fully immersed in what is going on. You also have to be willing to accept the seemingly incongruous elements of the story. At first glance, it seems like a film noir/mystery would not mesh with a historical drama, and yet, in the hands of Almodovar, they do. We see the link between the story of the two new mothers and the history of Spain and the Spanish Civil War. Both complex and layered.

I have never come across a male director who loves women as Almodovar does. Here, as with most of his films, men are definitely in the background like wallpaper. Not important or main characters, rather just devices to keep the plot moving forward. All the women he writes are full characters in that they are not all good or bad. Very human. Very personal.

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