Spanish director Pedro Almodovar has entered into a prolific collaboration with Penelope Cruz, showcasing the star in new and exciting ways. Cruz’s talent has never been in question, but it seems only Almodovar can access her maternal side.
In Parallel Mothers, Cruz plays, well, a mother. Her character, Janis, is a photographer whose relationship with a married anthropologist (Israel Elejalde) results in pregnancy. Nine months later, she meets another mother-to-be, Ana (Milena Smit), a teenager whose child was conceived under very different circumstances. Both give birth on the same day, to girls, and just before they head their separate ways, they exchange numbers in hopes of meeting again. Before you know what’s coming, items are swapped, spouses are dumped, lives are lost, and secrets are revealed.
You can count on there being more soapy twists in two hours than in an entire season of General Hospital. This is Almodovar, after all. The difference between Parallel Mothers and General Hospital, however, is stark. Almodovar focuses on the hearts and minds of mothers, the bond between them visualized with color, light, furniture and food. In each of his collabs with Cruz, the design underscores connection.
Parallel Mothers is richly layered and almost meditative in its pace, but the film stops to observe breathtaking moments of banal beauty. A shot of the two women, cutting potatoes, bathed sunshine and back-light, is simple yet unforgettable, as is a scene at a graveyard where the past miraculously collides with the present. These moments and scenes are prosaic, but Almodovar treats them with attention, care and utmost tenderness. He digs through the rough, earthy layers of his characters with an archeologist’s touch, and scours every inch of their bodies, hearts and minds for details. He doesn’t have to dig deep when Cruz is on screen. With a blink of her Mediterranean eyes, she conveys everything Almodovar wants to say. More than anything,
Parallel Mothers is a testament to their collaboration, in which even the soapiest of stories can emerge coherent, touching and grand.