Movie Review: Parallel Mothers
Parallel Mothers is about Janis, a photographer living in Madrid, who gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby despite the fact she'll have to raise the baby alone. In the hospital she meets Ana, a teenager, who is also about to have a baby and raise it with only the help of her mother. The two strike up a bond, but after Arturo, Janis' baby's father, questions the parentage of Janis' child, Janis has doubts that her baby is actually hers. The film stars Penélope Cruz, Rossy de Palma, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Milena Smit, and Israel Elejalde. The film is written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar.
Pedro Almodóvar is a titan of cinema. His films have become indelible touchstones. He's known for his works that highlight the struggles of women and especially give middle aged women, or at least women who aren't ingenues, a voice. Parallel Mothers continues that tradition with Almodóvar's love of melodrama.
In other movies a score like the one Alberto Iglesias has created would feel overwrought. The music, on first introduction, sounds like it was taken off a daytime soap opera. It seethes in that manipulative mode of casting villains and breaking hearts. Yet, with Almodóvar's very melodramatic story and with the fabulous performances, it works and creates a tension that heightens every scene.
I liked the story a lot. The reveals are satisfying and the drama is juicy. I even understand what Almodóvar was doing when he introduces the story line about Janis' great-grandfather who disappeared at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, but I didn't feel like the film landed for me in the last few minutes. That portion of the story mattered of course, but to have this plot conclude the film seemed out of place to me. Especially, with the epilogue quote. I thought I was paying attention to the right portions of the plot and then was blindsided by something I didn't think was incredibly important suddenly becoming the centerpiece.
Like in many of Almodóvar's films the colors pop. Almodóvar and cinematographer José Luis Alcaine utilized some beautiful high definition cameras that captured the gorgeous landscape and intriguing interiors. Though, something odd happened when in close up. The camera was getting the face of the actor perfectly, but it looked like there was a green screen behind them. The picture became this strange uncanny valley that my eyes could not adjust to. There are other possibilities in play, it could have been the theater I saw the film in didn't have the proper projector or this is the cut for HDTVs when it makes its way to Netflix, but it was disconcerting nonetheless.
Not enough can be said about how good Penélope Cruz is. She's had wonderful English language performances, but to see her in her native Spanish is to see a completely different actress. Cruz is terrific and hits every emotional beat perfectly. The scene in which Ana kisses Janis unexpectedly is a great bit of subtle acting. Cruz shows us the guilt, the pain, the disinterest, the excitement and the confusion all in the moments of the kisses. She's never better than when she works with Almodóvar.
Parallel Mothers is a good melodrama. There's a lot to love about the film even if it didn't strike the exact right cords for me. I love the color, the performances, and the tension of the drama. Parallel Mothers is well worth your time if you have it playing near you in a local theater.