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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Parallel Mothers' Review: Penélope Cruz & Motherhood In Pedro Almodóvar's Drama

Milena Smit and Penélope Cruz in hospital gowns whilst pregnant

Well, there are few mothers present and a couple of them are quite parallel to each other, I reckon, so at least you know what you're getting into. Writer-director Pedro Almodóvar's newest film Parallel Mothers (Madres paralelas in Spanish) tracks highs and lows of motherhood whilst creating a new grave before digging up some. Janis (Penélope Cruz) is a photographer around her forties who ends up getting pregnant, the father being the married archaeologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde). Janis' hospital pal is a teenager named Ana (Milena Smit), two of them giving birth at the same time and planning to stay in touch afterwards. As months and years go by, Janis suspects that their babies might've been switched. Following other sad circumstances, they end up living together and having a relationship before secrets must be unearthed.

The film is a tricky one to talk about, partly because some of the actually impactful moments come from early story beats that you don't want to spoil too much, and partly because it is rather basic in its construction at the same time. Weirdly for Almodóvar who certainly has plenty of typical auteur qualities, his script here feels like three to four slightly-below-average TV drama's episodes slapped together and weirdly dreary filmmaking (due to pandemic safety measures, maybe) doesn't help that at all. Teresa Font's editing is too rough around the edges as scenes and moods change drastically even when Janis is mainly experiencing same emotions, while Paola Torres' costume design is stuck with Almodóvar's usual habits where ugly green and red shades fit neither Janis as a character or Cruz as an actor.

It's astounding that there's a world class actor such as Cruz in the middle of mediocre plot points and unfinished thoughts, and those few instances of emotionality where secrets get uncovered do work solely because of her delicate, sincere delivery. Her effort is even more impressive considering that there's barely any believable chemistry with Elejalde, or even Smit, the latter actor struggling noticeably to keep up in their shared scenes. There's a significant difference in responsiveness and openness to where characters are going, making the outcome at the end of the film feel somewhat hollow. With Parallel Mothers, Almodóvar just isn't able to separate people from the narrow boxes he put them in right from the get-go, overestimating the story potential for a feature film in progress.

Smileys: Penélope Cruz tries her hardest

Frowneys: Story, costume design

Janis said ''down on me''.


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