Parallel Mothers (2021)

One of the best films to come out of this year’s awards season is Pedro Almodóvar’s latest feature, Parallel Mothers which sees him reunite with Penélope Cruz for the seventh time. The film follows photographer, Janis (Cruz) and her parallel experiences of motherhood with teenage mother, Ana (Milena Smit). What follows is a series of event that are unpredictable as the main characters lives start out the same, but veer off into different directions. Receiving two Oscar nominations for Cruz’s lead performance and Alberto Iglesias’ magnetic score, Parallel Mothers is a film that sees Almodóvar at his best. The film opened the Venice Film Festival where Cruz was awarded the Volpi Cup for Best Actress.

The film is written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, who showcases yet again how fearless he is as a filmmaker. What Almodóvar does so well is his ability to merge various genres, while also bringing in various layers that make his films so rewarding to watch. In Parallel Mothers, there is an ongoing plot as Janis campaigns for a local mass grave to be excavated as it contains the remains of her great-grandfather and other men who are unlawfully killed during the Spanish Civil War. This fight for freedom and local identity parallels her own struggles to find herself and her place in the world, while also serving as a plot point that drives the film forward.

Undoubtedly the beating heart in the film, Penélope Cruz provides one of 2021’s best performances as Janis. Janis is a successful photographer who lives in a beautiful apartment in the heart of Madrid. When she unexpectedly falls pregnant, her life begins to change and after encountering a teenage mother, Ana, in the hospital, she begins to see that they share more in common than she originally thought. Cruz is absolutely excellent in the film and deservedly won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at Venice Film Festival for her troubles, as well as receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actress. Cruz and Almodóvar have proven yet again how well they work together as Cruz is able to bring forth Janis’ complexities and strength.

The role of Ana is equally important as Janis because she serves as Janis’ parallel and counterpart throughout the film. Playing Ana is Milena Smit, a relative newcomer, who does a fantastic job in the role of complex Ana, a teenage mother who struggles in her new role as caregiver. Smit works brilliantly with Cruz as the two share a natural chemistry that makes the characters’ relationship authentic and believable from beginning to end. Throughout the film, we learn more about Ana and the more tragic it becomes in terms of her background. Smit’s performance therefore becomes more rewarding as we can see that sadness and struggle that Ana has been faced with and begin to understand why she makes the decisions that she does.

When it comes to the cinematography, Almodóvar relies on his regular collaborator José Luis Alcaine. What Alcaine does so well is allowing the audience to see the world from the character’s eyes. Janis’ perspective serves as a microcosm for the experiences of motherhood, while also remaining beautiful to look at. One poignant location used throughout the film is Janis’ kitchen. The kitchen is often referred to as the “heart of the home”, and in this instance, it is the “heart of the film” as Janis has many meaningful encounters there. Alcaine makes use of the space by shooting the kitchen from various angles to make it feel claustrophobic in scenes of tension and confrontation, while using wider shots to make it feel more spacious and free when used in scenes of joy and bonding.

One of the best elements of the film is the score composed by Alberto Iglesias. Iglesias was nominated for an Oscar for his work, and it’s easy to see why. Some tracks such as “El visillo volante” feel reminiscent of classic thrillers as the fast strings feel like a quickened heartbeat. What makes the score so effective is that Iglesias knows when to keep the music quiet and subtle in the background and when to allow the music to be loud and drawn out.

What makes Almodóvar one of the best filmmakers working today is his ability to craft beautiful characters, while also bringing in a wider view of the world. In Parallel Mothers, we follow Janis and her struggle to find her own identity, while simultaneously trying to fight for a local mass grave to be dug up that is believed to contain her great-grandfather and others who were killed during the Spanish Civil War. Almodóvar always makes films that are thoughtful and gripping and Parallel Mothers is no exception. It’s a film that doesn’t need all the bells and whistles as Almodóvar allows his actors to bring forth the tension in the script with Cruz providing her best performance in years, and one that I believe she should have won the Oscar for.

What did you think of Parallel Mothers? Let me know in the comments below!

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