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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

Parallel Mothers

The latest from Pedro Almodóvar is a delicious devastating psychodrama.

“Mine was an accident, but I’m so happy.”
“Mine was an accident too.”

The two women of Parallel Mothers first meet on the cusp of labour. Captured entirely in close-ups which never show the space between them, Janis (Penelope Cruz) and Ana (Milena Smit) may as well exist in entirely different worlds. Certainly, as the piece gradually unravels more of their respective lineages, we come to understand that these two people have been born into families cosmos apart. Janis lost her parents in her youth - her mother passed at age 27, whereas Janis is now giving birth at 40 - while Ana’s mother (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) is still around, but disappears for months at a time to pursue an acting career. And yet, when it comes to their children, Janis and Ana’s worlds collide in what quickly evolves from a quirky romcom into a shocking psychodrama, bestowing upon their own daughters a heritage which blends the traumas of their respective upbringings.

Pedro Almodóvar’s latest is a delirious black-comic tragedy that burns through plot in pursuit of constructing grand, twisted incidents interrogating around the bloodlines of his protagonists. Janis is a still life photographer by-day, and the film’s eye-popping opening sees her scrutinising Arturo (Israel Elajalde), a married archaologist and the father of her child, with flash photography from every conceivable angle. Almodóvar naturally proceeds to turn the lens on Janis, breaking down the spiralling twists and clashes of Janis and Ana as new mothers influenced by their own upbringings through gorgeous, concise snippets spanning a year.

The mise-en-scéne all feels so deliberate, all but demanding multiple watches to chart exactly where each player fits onto the board through any given move.

Cruz has commended Almodóvar on his ability to: “present all these different ways of being a mother, and [without judging] any of them,” and that is certainly reflected in balancing the familial tensions of his film without ever descending into melodrama. This can be largely attributed to his trademark eye for colour and costume. Characters live in bright apartments and brandish a rainbow spectrum of props, while dressing in anything from glamorous primary colours or flat shades of white and black, dependent on their moods and doubts. The mise-en-scéne all feels so deliberate, all but demanding multiple watches to chart exactly where each player fits onto the board through any given move.

There is a set storyline to Parallel Mothers of course, but the various shocks in its arsenal are just tools in the construction of muralistic moments, rather than climaxes as they might have become elsewhere. This is evident nowhere more than the ending, a hard pivot into a subplot long forgotten which then becomes the lynchpin for the tensions between our two mothers.

The film concludes with a Galeano quote: “the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is.” No matter what shocks the present have to offer, the past cannot be changed, and will continue to shape the future. Almodóvar insists that motherhood can never be finite or ‘resolved’, no matter what circumstances arise for either of his two case studies, but comfort can still be found in the knowledge that each relationship between mother and child is just another snapshot in the long line of mothers and children who have lived through parallel experiences. Do you see what he did there?


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