REVIEW: Cruz is superb in well-made drama ‘Parallel Mothers’

A new generation is welcomed to the world as a previous one is remembered in “Parallel Mothers,” a 2021 drama from Spain.

Directed and written by Pedro Almodovar, “Parallel Mothers” centers on Janis (Penelope Cruz), a photographer who also holds an interest in her family’s history. Specifically, she wants to excavate a mass grave in her home village in rural Spain, where her great-grandfather was killed during the Spanish Civil War.

She eventually meets Arturo (Israel Elejalde), an archaeologist who agrees to help with the project. The two also begin a relationship and Janis soon becomes pregnant. During her time in the hospital, Janis meets a young woman, Ana (Milena Smit), who’s also set to be a new mother. In the time after they give birth, something happens that continues to link the two women going forward.

Almodovar really ramps up the drama with a surprising development toward the end of the first act that makes the film enormously captivating. While the story that unfolds may seem a bit soap opra-ish at times, the film is elevated immensely by both Almodovar’s direction and the superb acting.

The path the relationship between Janis and Ana takes is intriguing and engrossing, as is the way their attitudes toward motherhood evolve. It’s a wonderfully fascinating situation to watch unfold, with a lot of passion and tension at play for much of the picture.

Almodovar carefully crafts a film where the audience sympathizes with all involved because of how things are rolling out. It creates a situation where a viewer holds their breath whenever difficult conversations take place.

The film, though, has somewhat of a double-edged sword at play. While Janis’ interest in her family’s history gives her character more depth, the movie’s focus on the subject, and the connection to the Spanish Civil War, feel under-baked.

Courtesy Sony Pictures.

The movie’s third act spends quite a bit of time on the fate of Janis’ great grandfather, making for not only a tonal shift, but one that shifts the focus of the movie, too. The movie even ends with a quote which touches on the conflict.

While it’s understandable that the movie presents generational change, the insertion of the Spanish Civil War feels excessive, as it was rarely touched upon for much of the runtime. The result can ultimately leave a viewer sympathetic toward the situation, but thrown off by the outcome of the film as a whole.

The whole matter creates a disconnect and the movie is damaged slightly in the process. What doesn’t hurt the movie, though, is the acting. Cruz, for example, shines as the star of the picture, with an Oscar-level performance.

The charm, strength, vulnerability and sensuality Cruz expresses in her portrayal creates a deep, well rounded character who is fascinating to watch. The range of emotions the character goes through, especially in the second act, are wonderfully portrayed by Cruz.

Milena Smit is worthy of praise as well, giving a spectacularly reserved performance. Ana is a character who can be more timid, as she’s a younger mother than Janis, and Smit is exceptional at capturing the more subdued of the two leads.

Almodovar’s feature is a stirring, fervent drama worth seeing, despite not sticking the landing in the final act. The film’s aura of femininity and lens on motherhood, bolstered by the cast and crew, empower this one. 4.1 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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