Almodóvar’s Spanish drama hits all the right notes

Parallel Mothers, the 2021 Spanish drama written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, is an unflinching look at motherhood, love, and loss.

by Pedro Almodóvar Parallel mothers beautifully expresses the happy highs and painful lows of motherhood, delicately told through the story of two single women who fatally shared a hospital room. The Spanish film masterfully combines vivid imagery and emotional tension to create a compelling story that avoids the genre’s usual clichés, stereotypes and other trappings. Disarmingly relatable and unpredictable, Parallel mothers is a an unwavering and unforgettable look at motherhood, love and loss.

Parallel mothers has a simple – if vague – premise: Janis (Penélope Cruz) and Ana (Milena Smit) come from very different backgrounds, but bond over their shared experience of giving birth as single mothers. Janis is the main focus and she faces some unusual challenges as a new parent. It gets further complicated when the child’s biological father, Arturo (Israel Elejalde), disputes the child’s supposed paternity. Ana, who is much younger, has her own struggles with her new role, due to her lack of an emotionally stable family life. In either case, the stress of parenting isn’t the problem; on the contrary, these parallel mothers have inner demons to face.

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Penélope Cruz in Parallel Mothers

Parallel mothers is an all-female film. With the exception of Arturo, all of the main and supporting characters – at least those who appear onscreen – are female. Men are overwhelmingly the fifth issue of the main plot interest: mothers and maternal experience. Fittingly, this is a deeply empathetic film that eschews fabricated conflict for a much more nuanced approach to storytelling. The initial setup and working scenes are tastefully done, leaning into performance rather than creating a faux conflict with busy camerawork or climactic music. The result is a compelling story that feels entirely believable while remaining unpredictable and thrilling.


Penélope Cruz is the heart and soul of Parallel mothers. Cruz is a frequent collaborator with Pedro Almodóvar, and their familiarity shows: the director perfectly captures every subtle gesture, every look and every breath. Cruz shines as a brand-new mother, but over time, she takes on the ashy, exhausted look of a single parent struggling to cope with the endless and deeply tiring responsibilities of parenthood. Milena Smit offers a satisfying counterpart to Cruz, demonstrating her own depth as an actor. The 25-year-old has a smaller role in the overall narrative, but leaves just as much of an impact, proving she’s a rising star to watch. The chemistry between the two crunches; that Smit could so easily share a stage with such a critically acclaimed actress without being upstaged is an impressive feat.



Parallel mothers was written by Almodóvar, who expertly tells the story through his thoughtful and precise direction. It takes care of every shot, filling the frame with vibrant colors, textures and patterns. Each hit serves a purpose. The characters’ feelings and experiences are expertly communicated through subtle moments: the way they stand, the distance between the characters, to the way the light falls on their faces, each image is a microcosm of life. interior of the characters. It’s wonderfully evocative from start to finish. One could watch without audio, without subtitles and still be completely absorbed in the story. That’s not to say the writing itself is lacking — rather, the writing matches the cinematography in expertise. There are many threads that are gradually woven into the overall story, with each revelation – no matter how shocking – being set up previously, while constantly defying audience expectations. It’s a difficult approach to film writing, but Almodóvar pulls it off.


Or Parallel mothers stands out, however, for its themes, which elevate the film beyond just a good or entertaining story. While ostensibly the feature is about motherhood, on a deeper level it’s about a shared history, destiny, and legacy. Janis’ relationship with Arturo begins because she needs his help to settle a case from her family’s past. Ana and Janis cross paths several times, completely by chance – but end up becoming intrinsically entangled, having bonded over a common tragedy. While many other films offer crisp, finished resolutions, Parallel mothers rejects this notion, instead arguing that events in the past can define our future in unpredictable ways. It’s a mature message for the public, and part of what makes Parallel mothers such a unique and charming film.


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Parallel mothers is 123 minutes long and rated R for some sexuality.

Our assessment:

4 out of 5 (Excellent)

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