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Parallel Mothers Movie Review

Parallel Mothers (Madres paralelas) (2021) movie poster Parallel Mothers (Madres paralelas)

US Theatrical Release: December 24, 2021 (Spanish Theatrical Release: October 8, 2021)

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R

Writer/Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Cast: Penélope Cruz (Janis Martinez), Aitana Sánchez-Gijón (Teresa), Milena Smit (Ana), Israel Elejalde (Arturo), Julieta Serrano (Brígida), Rossy d ePalma (Elena), Pedro Casablanc (Ana's Father), Adelfa Calvo (Brígida's Niece)


Parallel Mothers, the latest from Spain's renowned writer-director Pedro Almodóvar, is two movies in one. At its beginning and end, it tells the story of a distinguished photographer named Janis (finely played by the director's frequent muse Penelope Cruz)
doing a cover shoot of n accomplished anthropologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde) and asking his help to exhume the bodies of her great grandfather and about a dozen others who were executed and buried during the early days of war.

It's an interesting tale which explores all that goes into identifying and digging up human remains the right way. But it is eclipsed by the more compelling and not particularly related narrative from which the film gets its title. That involves Janis' unplanned pregnancy with Arturo and the complex relationship she forms from that experience with a fellow expectant single mother, the teenaged Ana (Milena Smit). This core story claims the bulk of the runtime and the lion's share of our interest as it moves the film into the domain of psychological thrillers as Janis begins to suspect her baby is not hers and stealthily orders multiple maternity tests that confirm her fears.

(Ana) Milena Smit and Janis (Penelope Cruz) are "Parallel Mothers" in the new film by Pedro Almodóvar.

Just a few years shy of 50, Cruz is inexplicably as radiant as she's ever been, twenty years since American moviegoers first saw her in films like Vanilla Sky and Captain Corelli's Mandolin and almost thirty since she began acting for Almodóvar. Having starred in some of the director's better films (Volver, Broken Embraces), Cruz has no difficulty carrying this multi-layered character study on her back. There is buzz that she could pick up another Academy Award nomination for her work here, a significant achievement since most years no performances in a foreign language make the cut with the American-based Academy.

Whether or not that happens, Parallel Mothers is a film to see, one which sweeps you up in its contemporary mystery and has you eager to answer the questions it raises.

Janis, a veteran pro so desperate to work she'll shoot handbags and shoes, and Ana, a young product of pained divorce scraping by as a cafe waitress, form an intragenerational bond that goes beyond their concurrent forays into motherhood. Almodóvar immerses us in this narrative so fully that by the time he returns to the original plot of archaelogical exhumation, you wonder why. The disjointed ending leaves Parallel Mothers on a strange note at odds with the film it has just spent the better part of two hours telling. Nonetheless, there's enough color and substance to appreciate having gone on this rewarding journey, which per usual is being slowly rolled out over the course of awards season from Almodóvar's go-to North American distributor, Sony Pictures Classics.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Tragedy of MacbethHouse of GucciBeing the RicardosWest Side Story
Directed by Almodóvar: Pain and Glory
Penélope Cruz: Vanilla SkyNine

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Reviewed January 6, 2022.

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