‘Parallel Mothers’ features excellent performance by Penélope Cruz

The forensic archaeologist is a key character in Pedro Almodóvar’s astonishing ‘Parallel Mothers’, which is quite fitting as the director is constantly discovering more and more layers in the film.

It’s a beautiful dig, fueled by the formidable performances of frequent Almodóvar collaborator Penélope Cruz and relative feature newcomer Milena Smit.

On the surface, these are only bright primary colors and melodramatic twists, propelled by Alberto Iglesias’ score. But as the story unfolds – and it does, continually – Almodóvar reveals depths that culminate in a stunning final image that both takes your breath away and ties all the threads of the fabric together. he has woven.

This fabric is made up of many elements, some of which seem disparate – motherhood, friendship, tragedy, subterfuge and nothing less than the tormenting legacy of the Spanish Civil War.

Almodóvar skillfully peels layers of history

Janis (Cruz) is a fashion photographer who shoots a magazine cover with Arturo (Israel Elejalde). Arturo is the forensic archaeologist, and after the session Janis – named by her hippie mother for Janis Joplin – asks him for a personal favor. His great-grandfather was part of a group of men captured and massacred by fascists at the start of the Civil War. They were thrown into a massive, anonymous grave. She knows where, but the city won’t pay for the exhumation.

Milena Smit as Ana, on the left, and Penélope Cruz as Janis in "Parallel mothers" by director Pedro Almodóvar.

Arturo agrees to help him, but warns against bureaucracy. The two sleep together and Janis finds herself pregnant and delighted. (Arturo, married, is not currently pictured.) Meanwhile, her maternity roommate Ana (Smit), is a teenage girl unhappy with her pregnancy and, as we learn, has reasons for it. to be.

But the two are linked. Janis offers support to Ana, which Ana’s mother Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) clearly cannot. Or at least won’t.

Teresa is something, an aging actress obsessed with starting her career. After Ana gives birth, she bursts into the hospital room elated and elated – not because of the birth of her granddaughter, but because she has a head start on a big role in a theatrical production. .

Almodóvar goes back and forth between Janis’ life and Ana’s as they embark on motherhood. Both are privileged, with au pairs, nannies and housekeepers. (Janis’ au pair incompetence is a common joke.) But the two also struggle, and their lives are destined to intertwine.

Smit is fantastic. Cruz is even better

To say in what way would be a huge disservice. Some of what is going on will seem obvious; part is. But none of this is without deeper meaning. Each scene is a piece of a puzzle that Almodóvar sets up; we can’t always imagine the finished product, but it can.

Almodóvar (“Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown”, “Talk to him”) likes to subvert the expectations of the public. He also likes to create vivid images that both demand attention and create a sort of comfort level. This too can be misleading.

Ana (Milena Smit, left) and Janis (Penélope Cruz) lives intertwine after sharing a hospital room in "Parallel mothers."

Above all, he gets great performances from his actors. Ana de Smit is growing up after having a baby, says Teresa. Smit successfully conveys this maturity but doesn’t exaggerate it – Ana is still a young woman, new to motherhood, new to seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. But she was also made to grow. It’s tricky but Smit is doing beautifully.

Cruz is even better. Janis is successful, energetic, independent. It can also be manipulative and damaging. Yet, like Spain, she is haunted by a past that Janis realizes that colors her everyday life. It’s not what’s there, it’s what’s missing. Cruz’s representation of this pain is exceptional. If anything she takes to motherhood, it’s because she knows that she and her daughter are part of something bigger.

When Arturo returns to his life, the story changes again and Almodovar puts all of his power to work, making “Parallel Mothers” a triumph.

‘Parallel Mothers’ 4.5 stars

Director: Pedro Almodovar.

To throw: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde.

Evaluation: R for a certain sexuality.

To note: In theaters January 7.

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