Pedro Almodóvar’s soap opera features stunning performance by Penélope Cruz

Parallel mothers is proof that Pedro Almodóvar remains a major cinematographic force. Its screenplay is enhanced by the captivating performances of Penélope Cruz and Milena Smit. His soap opera melodrama sometimes plays a little too loud, though Parallel mothers remains a wonderful addition to Almodóvar’s filmography that shocks, intrigues and invigorates.

“Parallel mothers” is the 22nd feature film by Pedro Almodóvar

LR: Milena Smit as Ana and Penélope Cruz as Janis | Sony Pictures Classics

Janis Martinez (Cruz) is a middle aged single woman who works as a magazine photographer. She meets a single teenage girl named Ana (Smit) in a hospital room where they both will soon give birth. Janis doesn’t regret her decision to have the baby, although the idea terrifies Ana. The two women develop a powerful bond as they face motherhood on their own terms.

Parallel mothers connects the past and the present as Janis tries to obtain permits to excavate a site deeply linked to her family. She struggles to return to work, to cope with the drama involving her lover, Arturo (Israel Elejalde), and to complete the digs that so many other families rely on.

Pedro Almodóvar directs two stories

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Parallel mothers highlights generational motherhood. Janis and Ana have a distinct age difference which shows how they approach their own journey to motherhood. However, Almodóvar’s script goes beyond what audiences see involving the two protagonists. Their relationships with their own mothers are also radically different, indicating a domino effect of motherhood. Fatherhood also looms in the background, but that is never necessarily the focal point.

Almodóvar explores how motherhood changes a person. They are both now responsible for another human life but must now also juggle other important aspects of their lives, including their careers. Parallel mothers includes a woman returning to work and another who is still young and finding her place in the world. Nonetheless, Janis and Ana’s story feels more like a fate, as they have become intrinsically linked since meeting in that hospital room.

The second story of excavation in Parallel mothers acts more like bookends. He begins the story and concludes it. However, it still fits into the rest of the movie. The story of the excavation further establishes Almodóvar’s examination of motherhood, family and inheritance. There’s a lot of drama in Janis and Ana’s relationship, but this tale really packs a punch in the stomach.

“Parallel Mothers” is an emotional journey

From left to right: Rossy de Palma as Elena, Israel Elejalde as Arturo, Penélope Cruz as Janis and Milena Smit as Ana | Sony Pictures Classics

Parallel mothers is made particularly effective thanks to the exceptional performances of Cruz and Smit. Cruz is absolutely magnetic because she delivers a truly dynamic performance that brings a significant nuance to the role. Smit is spellbinding, even though he’s a newcomer to the scene. The alchemy of Cruz and Smit is undeniable. Almodóvar does a wonderful job creating the central characters in the film.

The drama sometimes dives a little too deep into its melodrama, which runs counter to the film’s most authentic moments. Janis and Ana’s story takes place in strange places that don’t fully work. Parallel mothers looks like it has an even better movie in its excavation story just begging to be developed. However, Almodóvar only teases the huge emotional impact which could have gone much deeper.

Parallel mothers uses what is lost and found as an important thematic motif. It can be found in her review of motherhood, friendship, romance, and ancestry. It’s sentimental and significantly intimate. However, some of its most dramatic soap opera moments hamper the film’s full potential. Nevertheless, Parallel mothers is a moving and remarkable narration.

Parallel mothers hits limited theaters on December 24.

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