Parallel Mothers is a twisting tale of two single mothers, Janis (Penélope Cruz) and Ana (Milena Smit), whose fates become entwined. Where some films could survive on just an affair, or just an unexpected pregnancy, and the secrets they create, Almodóvar throws twist after twist at his characters. It’s an act of faith in both his cast and his audience that they can deliver and receive the emotion of so many dramatic moments in a few brief brushstrokes.

His long-time collaborator Penélope Cruz is particularly accomplished in this mode, conveying the pain of a disappointing romantic encounter or the weight of a life-changing revelation without the need for pages of dialogue. It’s an unusual style that wouldn’t work with just any actor, and Cruz fills every inch of this emotional panorama with ease.

Almodóvar has never been shy of melodrama, but his more mature films have always excelled when his bombastic plots are met with more subtle depictions. There are furious slinging matches and hearts poured out, but they have a greater force because of the restrained performances and musical accompaniment elsewhere.

Cruz is symbolic of this mood, as a woman of absolute pragmatism. She keeps her accidental pregnancy because she wants a child, and hides a shocking revelation for similar reasons. Janis takes a lot of hits in Parallel Mothers, but she doesn’t let them break her. She just adapts to each new situation and keep going, like the women of her village who are seeking the unmarked graves of their ancestors, victims of the Spanish Civil War, in sequences that bookend the film.

There is no attempt from Almodóvar to moralise on his characters’ failings and mistakes. He understands that sometimes people do the wrong things for very valid, human reasons. What matters is whether we do the right thing in the end.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Rossy de Palma, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón

DIRECTOR: Pedro Almodóvar

WRITER: Pedro Almodóvar

SYNOPSIS: The story of two mothers who give birth the same day.