Parallel Mothers

Yet another Almodovar entry you need to see the believe.

Pedro Almodovar has really proven himself to be a tremendous Spanish filmmaker-one who tells characters in their most dramatic moments and leading the right actors, who all provide as much humanity to their characters as they possibly can. “Parallel Mothers” is his next feature, and it’s a gorgeous one that hits you where you least expect it.

Reuniting with his regular star Penelope Cruz, Almodovar gives her a story about pregnancies, switches, and unexpected chemistries. She excels with radiant life, and also has a young co-star by the name of Milena Smit to have the right kind of chemistry.

Cruz is the photographer Janis, whose pregnancy comes from the married forensic archaeologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde). She’s fine with raising the baby on her own, as her mother did and her grandmother did. A single mother to be precise.

And that same applies to Ana (Smit), a teenager, whose pregnancy was a result of gang rape. These two women meet in the same hospital and give birth on the same day. And they both have baby girls.

Outside their diaper changing lives, Janis needs Arturo to help her unmark the grave where her great grandfather and many others were murdered during the Spanish Civil War, while Ana’s mother Theresa (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) is pursuing her acting career, and leaves her behind. Mother of the year.

But circumstances emerge for Janis, as her baby may have switched at birth, and has yet to tell Ana the truth, while Janis hires her as her nanny, and they take their friendship to the next level.

“Parallel Mothers” is an unexpected trip for me, because of how it takes real-life situations and spikes them with Almodovar’s own personal touch. You can sense that the ways he photographs the two mothers giving birth, how they raise their girls, and how turmoil strikes the two with the greatest of ease.

Cruz is marvelous, beyond measure, when she uses her beauty, vulnerabilities, and emotions to bring out Janis’ life. Smit is a new name for me to learn, but she excels as a young woman who never succumbs to the typical cliches and plays it cool. I also admire how she changes her hair color from long brown to short white and then short brown. These two women both give powerful performances, and their characters are written in ways you need to see to believe.

Even the supporting work from Rossy de Palma as Janis’ good friend Elena, Sanchez-Gijon, and Elejalde. They’re humans who have their own ambitions and situations, and how the two main heroines respond to them are delicate and patient. It’s never formulaic, and that’s a relief.

Certain moments lag a bit, but at least they cut back on the loud cryings I’ve had to deal with in “The Lost Daughter” and “Belle.” And I really enjoyed those movies. It’s more of a relaxing experience that kept me at the edge of my seat, wondering how the switcheroo would pay off. With all respect.

The story is complex, and the tension thickens as it unfolds. And the eerie score compared by Alberto Iglesias really sets the mood and tone of the drama and the twists and turns. Leave it to Almodovar to take a particular genre to great lengths.

Last week, Cruz was in the action thriller “The 355,” and now, I’m wondering why she had to succumb to the boring cliches without thriving on them. That bomb was a downer, compared to the pure intensity and truth of a movie like “Parallel Mothers.” Unlike most commercial movies, this one is sympathetic, passionate, and easily provocative.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

Now Playing in Select Theaters

Categories: Drama, Foreign

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