‘Parallel Mothers’ – a film by Pedro Almodovar-Penelope Cruz that is worth seeing

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

You do not need a buccal swab to determine the lineage of “parallel mothers”.

It’s pure Pedro Almodovar – bold, brilliant and, on occasion, exuberantly bonkers.

Two future mothers share a room in a Madrid maternity hospital. One is Janis (Penelope Cruz), a high-end professional photographer in her forties who is thrilled to have – finally – welcomed her first child. The other is Ana (Milena Smit), a teenager who is anything but happy to have a baby. The only thing the two have in common is that the father is not present in either case.

Poster of the movie “Parallel Mothers”

Yet they bond, have their baby girls within hours of each other, and seem to go their separate ways. But remember the title. These mothers are not just parallel to each other; they’re on a kind of motherly collision course, a trajectory that delivers a soap opera season of outlandish twists and turns.

“Parallel Mothers” looks a lot like a breakaway Telemundo series that somehow ended up in the ingenious hands of Almodovar. Overloaded with melodrama and incident, the film nevertheless has some serious stuff on its mind, including the inescapable shadow of the Spanish Civil War. This theme is introduced almost immediately when Janis photographs a famous forensic anthropologist (Israel Elejalde) and asks him about the excavation of a mass grave in his hometown. There are the remains of his great-grandfather and nine other loyalist supporters murdered by Franco’s fascists.

A scene from “Parallel Mothers”

He agrees, then pretty much drops the picture (except as one of those absentee fathers). So does Janis’ request, who returns near the end of the film to remind us that we are all, as Beckett said, born astride the grave. This story itself is a kind of mass grave.

Still, the film is far more affirming than depressing. Shot in Almodovar’s candy color palette and imbued with his unique joyful humanity, “Parallel Mothers” is unfailingly entertaining. And that’s almost as much down to its star as it is to the director.

This is Cruz’s seventh collaboration with Almodovar, and her performance is astonishing in both its precision and ease. She’s been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, and if she wins, it would be well deserved. In his hands, even such a mundane task as peeling potatoes takes on a brilliant, almost miraculous brilliance.

Watch the movie and you will understand what I mean.

“Parallel Mothers” is in Spanish with English subtitles. It is streaming on Amazon Prime.

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