Pedro Almodóvar is back with a film about his favorite subject: mothers. The hall was packed when we went to see Film Fest Gent . Madres Paralelas provides a starring role for Penélope Cruz, but also some reservations about how everything in the story comes together.
Janis (Penélope Cruz) is a photographer, but her life is at a crossroads. She wants to honor the past of her family and village, but also decides her future with it. A mass grave with victims of the Franco dictatorship in Spain was discovered in her parental village. Only Janis himself has to find someone who wants to uncover the grave and thus support the project. She contacts an archaeologist friend and that clicks again immediately.
Nine months later, Janis meets young Ana (Milena Smit) in the delivery ward. They are both unexpectedly pregnant and single, but Janis is happier about it than Ana. Ana is anxious for the future and the influence of her mother, who is building her career as an actress but still wants Ana to keep the baby. Janis tries to encourage her, and after the births of their babies they agree to keep in touch. Both women immediately adore their baby.
After that, they both get used to the rhythm of their new life, with trial and error. In between, we see how they experienced their pregnancy and how both women come into contact again. Ana’s mother has an acting job and therefore Ana is left on her own. But Janis also sometimes has a hard time, especially when the archaeologist comes back into the picture. Eventually Ana even moves in with Janis, but it soon becomes clear that something is not right.
Madres Paralelas is a film that keeps a lot of balls in the air. It is at once a family drama, historical drama, coming-of-age story, mystery and at times a thriller. The bad news is that all those elements are not always well intertwined. The storyline about the cemetery is especially fascinating and a sad chapter in Spanish history . Therefore, it’s a shame it becomes more of a footnote once its introduction is over.
The good news is that the other storylines are also worth following. Janis and Ana are two completely different women who are completely changed by motherhood. Almodóvar shows both the difficult and the beautiful aspects and adds a few ethical dilemmas to their story. Friendship between women is often so important in a person’s life, and few things can change that. Penélope Cruz and Milena Smit have a surprising chemistry, but Cruz is the one who keeps you mesmerized. Her incredible naturalness comes into its own with this character. It is a rather understated but memorable rendition. She was awarded at the Venice Film Festival and is already in the running for an Oscar.
Pedro Almodóvar continues to have his own style as a director. His movies often make me feel like you’re watching one from the early 2000s. Just that little bit strange, but always with a certain charm. He uses a lot of close-ups here, which give an unusual effect because both the foreground and background are sharp. It sometimes has something claustrophobic, especially when you see the (typically) colorful design of the sets. The music fits that retro feeling, because on the rare occasions that it is there, it is reminiscent of an old thriller.
So Madres Paralelas is a mixed bag, but Almodóvar always makes something interesting out of it and makes his protagonists shine.