By Jake Watt
27th January 2022

Pedro Almodóvar's directorial career can be divided into two distinct slabs of film: kinky romps like 'Law of Desire' and 'Women on The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown', and more mature melodramas like 'All About My Mother' and 'Talk to Her'. Personally, my favourites of his are the ones where these styles overlap, such as 'Bad Education' - and his new 'Parallel Mothers'.

Janis (Penelope Cruz, 'The 355', 'Pain and Glory', 'Everybody Knows') is a trendy photographer living in a cosmopolitan part of Madrid. She approaches Arturo (Israel Elejalde), a forensic archaeologist with a terminally ill wife, for assistance in exhuming a mass grave that lies on the outskirts of her childhood village. She shows him photographs of the ten people, including her great-grandfather, who she believes were buried there after being murdered by General Francisco Franco's regime during the Spanish Civil War. He agrees to help, and the two engage in a torrid but respectful affair that leaves Janis pregnant and preparing for single motherhood.


She finds herself in labour alongside Ana (Milena Smit, 'Cross The Line'), an unwed teen who seems regretful and haunted by her decision. The younger woman is supported financially but not emotionally by her mother, Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, 'The Machinist'), an actress whose self-absorption is played for laughs and pathos.

After they both give birth, Janis and Ana later reconnect in some surprising ways that I won't spoil here. Suffice to say there are a few guilty secrets and a variety of tensions as the two unexpected mothers struggle with what society expects from them.

Some of Almodóvar's films can come out a little too juicy, bursting with more storylines, themes, and digressions than one melodrama can contain. In that respect, 'Parallel Mothers' should be celebrated for its clarity and emotionally-charged statement of purpose.

Of course, being an Almodóvar flick, the way motherhood is presented feels, to say the least, refreshingly untraditional. It also provides a showcase for three powerhouse performances from Cruz, Sánchez-Gijón and Smit.

Almodóvar explores the lingering scars of the Francoist dictatorship and how, nearly one hundred years after the Spanish Civil War and one Pact of Forgetting later, the country is starting to deal with it - both politically and artistically. Janis wants to dig up a historical atrocity, but Ana doesn't want to confront her very recent trauma. And, as Spanish society avoids publicly discussing things like Franco being a tyrant responsible for putting thousands of people in mass graves during the country's years-long political repression, Ana similarly just wants to put her past in the rear-view mirror and focus on her present and future.

Of course, being an Almodóvar flick, the way motherhood is presented feels, to say the least, refreshingly untraditional. It also provides a showcase of three powerhouse performances from Cruz, Sánchez-Gijón and Smit, the latter of whom easily holds her own against her vastly more experienced co-stars. Cruz, in her seventh film with the director - her third as a pregnant woman, after 'Live Flesh' and 'All About My Mother', and likely her second to garner her an Academy Award nomination after 'Volver' - effortlessly inhabits her chic, tough yet compassionate character.

Exploring female identity and revisiting the past with conflicted feelings of pain and nostalgia, 'Parallel Mothers' is a near-perfect mix of the personal and political, ranking among the best of Almodóvar's films.

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