Penélope Cruz is brilliant in her touching story of motherhood

Story: When two pregnant women end up sharing a hospital room, their lives intertwine in more ways than they can imagine. As their paths cross again, one of them decides to hide shocking truths that could change the course of their lives.

It’s winter 2015 in Madrid when Janis (Penélope Cruz), a beautiful woman in her thirties, meets famed forensic archaeologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde) for a photo shoot. They instantly connect and end up in bed with a mutually agreed equation with no strings attached. Janis also asks her to help dig a mass grave in her hometown where her people were killed and buried during the Spanish Civil War. Soon, Janis becomes pregnant and decides to keep the baby and raise the child, as a single mother. At the hospital, she meets a young teenager Ana (Milena Smit), whose pregnancy is also accidental. Their situation is similar but their mentalities could not be more diverse. While Janis can’t wait to raise her child on her own, Ana isn’t ready to become a mother just yet.

Acclaimed filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar uses this contrast to build the foundation of his narrative which slowly unfolds the twist in a very down-to-earth way. In his trademark style, Almodóvar drives his story through the nuances of human nature and relationships, especially his female characters, who evolve beautifully over the course of the film. The storytelling is simple and straightforward with characters that represent real and imperfect people. The tranquil setting of his home country of Spain completes the subject matter that doesn’t require unnecessary frills or drama to connect with his audience. It’s niche but relatable.

Penélope Cruz, radiant and resplendent in a role that seems to have been written only for her, delivers a performance of superb restraint. It’s hard to take your eyes off her, as she makes tough choices for Janis. Cruz does it so easily and it’s a pleasure to watch her perform in her native language with precision. Milena Smit clings to her own opposite Cruz, as a rebellious teenager, who evolves into a mother even as she yearns to live her life her own way. Aitana Sánchez-Gijón is adorable as Ana’s ambitious mother, who is well aware of how her career aspirations are paying off for her child. Israel Elejalde is perfectly cast as caring and caring Arturo.

In stories like these, there are no villains. There are only real people in situations that force them to make tough choices. You often find yourself wondering, “What would I do if I were him?” There are only answers, no right or wrong. Almodóvar seems to give his audience this space for reflection. It packs in another story subplot of those killed in a civil war and it feels like a bit of a diversion, but thankfully it’s limited towards the climax.

The strength of this artistic film lies in strong performances and authentic characters. Almodóvar delivers a heartbreaking drama about love, life and relationships with a splash of color that never lets him slip into the dark recesses of despair.

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