Almodóvar’s switched-at-birth story, Parallel Mothers, is one of his most subtle and less-extravagant outings yet; however, it has his usual dramatic punch and a duet of excellent performances by Milena Smit and Penelope Cruz.
The stylish Spaniard, Pedro Almodóvar, is one of the top-tier international directors working today, delivering a consistent oeuvre throughout his years as an auteur. From Women Under the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), my favorite, to his first English-language Cocteau excursion, The Human Voice (2019), his works always have a colorful debonair and passion. However, his latest is slightly different, switching his gears and choosing a more fine-drawn approach and a political undertone.
Two single women, who become pregnant by accident, meet in the same hospital room where they will give birth. One of them is Janis (Penelope Cruz), a middle-aged woman who doesn’t regret her pregnancy and is jubilant about it; the other is Ana (Milena Smit), a traumatized woman worried about it. Janis tries to embolden Ana as they walk along the hospital halls; they bond very closely and exchange thoughts regarding the matter. However, an incident causes an even more complicated situation that will pivotally change their lives.
Parallel Mothers can be considered Almodóvar’s most political expedition, tackling the Civil War and the country’s unwillingness to confront it. He has never been shy to pursue complex topics, but this one seems like a film he has wanted to make for a long while and now he has been given the opportunity to do so at last. Interestingly, the Spanish maestro features a melodramatic story about pregnancy with so many twists and turns while still adding an angry howl of pain towards the people who felt betrayed by their own.
At the center of it all, there is the topic of motherhood, a theme that he uses as the driving point of many of his features, such as All About My Mother (1999), Volver (2006), and Julieta (2016). In this, he forges a bond with two soon-to-be mothers and connects them through a switched-at-birth scenario, but it isn’t unlike any other film that deals with this subject. The script is penned with moments of dramatic delicacy that enrich the narrative’s various intricacies. Another director couldn’t have done a picture like this justice. Even though it isn’t close to being his finest, it does have moments in which you see how, even with so much experience, there is growth amidst subtle and adroit presentations.
Penélope Cruz, Almodóvar’s muse, delivers the necessary chops to show the audience every single ounce of pain, sadness, and fondness of her character by just looking at her eyes. There is no need for monologues nor multiple pages of dialogue to showcase her aching heart. However, Almodóvar may have found a shining star in Milena Smit, who steals multiple scenes from Cruz with great ease. Both have tremendous chemistry with each other uplifting their performances. There couldn’t be one without the other.
Astonishingly, you see how Almodóvar has matured as both a writer and director. As a result, his current texts have a sense of relief, writing from the most personal places imaginable. Few like him can deliver films that cover comedic, emotional, and alluring grounds consistently. Parallel Mothers is a triumph; thought-provokingly fierce while his characters are emotionally justified in their mistakes and arbitrations—a representation of the Civil War by means of two mothers.