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Review: Parallel Mothers (2021)

Review: Parallel Mothers (2021)

Parallel Mothers (2021)

The ‘parallel’ in the title of Pedro Almodóvar’s new film, Parallel Mothers (Madres Paralelas) (2021) is confounding. Although we do see the stories of two mothers, their individual maternal trajectories are anything but parallel.

They also betray the fundamental law of parallel lines by intersecting and crossing each other several times. Janis Martinez (Penelope Cruz, radiant as ever) and Ana Manso (Milena Smit) are both pregnant and single at the same time. Janis’s no-strings relationship with anthropological archaeologist Arturo (the classically good-looking Israel Elejalde) has resulted in her pregnancy, but she has assumed full responsibility for the baby. Ana is unsure exactly who the father of her child is and so, is also on her own. The two women share a maternity ward and, once their children are born, keep in touch.

There is also a parallel (that word again) storyline involving Janis’s desire to exhume the body of her great-grandfather, who was killed along with many other men from his town during the Spanish Civil War and buried in an unmarked mass grave. This is what brings Janis into contact with Arturo and marks the beginning of their on-again, off-again relationship.

The various threads mingle as Janis begins to suspect that the baby she is raising may not be her biological child. We are ushered into a solid domestic drama about mothers and motherhood, in the vein of Almodóvar’s Volver (also starring Cruz). But Parallel Mothers never reaches the emotion and sweep of that film, primarily because Almodóvar is not entirely convincing in his attempt to integrate two separate storylines – Janis and Ana’s story and Janis’s exhumation efforts. Especially at the film’s finish, the various strands do not come together with a satisfying click, but, instead, are left for us to bring together in our heads (if we wish).

Still, Almodóvar is nothing if not a master at directly involving us in his films and Parallel Mothers is another example of this. With superb performances (including Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, who is a hoot as Ana’s inept and self-absorbed mother), gorgeous close-up and fade-out shots and his signature brightly-coloured production design, Almodóvar constructs a world that I was instantly drawn into. A world of strong women, near-incidental men, fluid and unbridled sexuality, beautiful clothes and sharply written conversation. No scene is dispensable, no performance forgettable so I was quite happy to spend two hours in the company of these messy yet likeable characters. You leave some films in the cinema hall, Parallel Mothers left with me.

Written for The Film Dispatch by Sahir Avik D’souza. 


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