Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film “Parallel Mothers” is another fascinating work to be added to his long and illustrious career. Because, like many of Almodóvar’s notable works such as “Talk to Her” (2002), the movie engages us to a surprising degree as delicately taking a number of unexpected plot turns, I will be very discreet in the next several paragraphs, but I suggest that you should stop reading my review and then watch the movie now, if you want to be entertained as much as possible.
At the beginning, the movie just seems to be about its heroine’s old family history. When she is doing her latest job as a professional photographer, Janis Martínez Moreno (Penélope Cruz) comes to befriend a famous forensic archaeologist guy named Arturo (Israel Elejalde), who is incidentally the one to be photographed by her for some magazine. As they spend more time together, Arthuro shows a genuine interest in not only Janis but also her longtime wish to excavate a certain rural spot where her great-grandfather and several other local people were killed and then buried in the middle of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, and they soon find themselves in a close romantic relationship even though he is a married man.
Some time later, we see Janis pregnant with her lover’s baby. For a reason to be revealed later in the story, she decided to raise the child alone, and she is totally fine with that even though she becomes more anxious as her delivery date is approaching day by day. At least, she gets some support from a young pregnant woman named Ana Manso Ferreras (Milena Smit) as they share the same hospital room, and they become closer to each other after finally giving birth to their respective daughters on the same day.
After that point, the movie alternates between its two main characters’ respective mothering periods. With some help and assistant from her two employees, Janis pays full attention to raising her little daughter in her house packed with those distinctively colorful touches by Almodóvar, and she does not mind at all when Arthuro subsequently comes to see her as well as their baby. In case of Ana, she has to depend a lot on her actress mother Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), but then Teresa becomes unavailable due to her upcoming tour, and Ana has to raise her little daughter alone in Teresa’s house while occasionally helped by Teresa’s maid.
However, there comes a little problem. When he finally sees Janis’ daughter, Arthuro is initially delighted, but then he says the baby does not feel or look like their child. Although she naturally does not believe at first, Janis comes to have more suspicion as she reflects more on this rather incredulous issue, and she eventually comes to take an active action for that.
Now you may think you know where the story is heading, and Almodóvar’s screenplay simply follows the logical consequence of Janis’ aforementioned action for a while, but then it surprises us via a series of unexpected story developments between Janis and Ana. Coming to care more about Ana than before, Janis becomes more conflicted about how to handle a very complicated situation between them, but she only finds herself more emotionally entangled with Ana, and Ana still has no idea about what is going on behind Janis, while also getting much closer to Janis than before.
I will not go into details here, but I can tell you at least that I appreciated how Almodóvar masterfully handles his story and characters. As subtly accumulating the tension around its two main characters’ melodramatic circumstance along with Alberto Iglesias’ graceful Oscar-nominated score, the movie impresses us a lot via its delicate mood and colorful details, and Almodóvar certainly does not disappoint us at all with his skillful utilization of bright colors on the screen. I must confess that the epilogue part felt rather redundant to me at first, but this part becomes gradually poignant, and the last shot of the film will linger on your mind for a while.
The dramatic suspense of the movie depends a lot on the dynamic interactions between its two main actresses, and both of them are simply fabulous as they constantly revolve around each other. While Penélope Cruz, who received the Best Actress award when the movie was shown at the Venice International Film Festival in last year and then deservedly received an Oscar nomination in last week, ably holds the center with another excellent performance in her remarkable acting career, Milena Smit holds her own place well besides Cruz during their several key scenes in the film, and they are also supported well by several different supporting performers including Israel Elejalde, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, and Rossy de Palma, who steals the show a bit from Cruz and Smit whenever she enters the screen.
On the whole, “Parallel Mothers” is an admirable piece of work to be savored for its mood, detail, and performance, and that reminds me again of how Almodóvar has been a consistently interesting filmmaker to me since I watched “High Heels” (1991) and “All About My Mother” (1999). As touchingly reflected by his previous film “Pain and Glory” (2019), he is surely going through what will be the last chapters of his life and career, but “Parallel Mothers” demonstrates that his artistic spirit remains as vivid and vibrant as before, and we are certainly lucky to watch another good film from him.