What separates writer-director Pedro Almodóvar from many other filmmakers, what has indeed put him into an elite international class, is his ability to go there. His latest film, Parallel Mothers, has familiar components, sure, but as its story settles into what could be an expected rhythm, Almodóvar complicates it in daring terms. The result is a film that feels both composed and wild, a straightforward work that expands with meaning and emotion.
Parallel Mothers opens with photographer Janis (Penélope Cruz) as she asks archeologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde) for help to recover the body of her great-grandfather, a casualty of Spain’s civil war. After introducing its political dimension, however, the pair fall into bed, producing a child and the film’s dramatic throughline. While pregnant, Janis meets Ana (Milena Smit), a lost new mother and similarly single woman. They strike up a friendship that evolves as the film explores their differing experiences of motherhood—Janis balancing her career and relationship with Arturo, Ana growing up and away from her mother, Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), an actress finding her stride later in life. These actresses (and others) bring this film’s rich story to life, with Cruz working as its main vertex. I won’t spoil what else bonds her Janis with Ana, but naturally, Almodóvar draws those points out for maximum effect. His “going there” this time involves the two babies, of course, but also far more than that. And perhaps most daring of all, the film doesn’t forget to loop back around to its original impulse, one that seeks to make peace with an upset past.
I’m by no means an Almodóvar aficionado, so perhaps I shouldn’t sound so amazed after his almost 50 years as a filmmaker. Nevertheless, it’s nothing short of inspiring to watch as Parallel Mothers winds itself up and then together as a film that is both intensely personal and political. This is a film that generates strident energy both forwards and backwards, drawing a straight beaming line from the past to the future.