Film: ‘Parallel Mothers’ (Running in Theatres), Duration: 123 minutes
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Penelope Cruz, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Julieta Serrano, Rossy de Palma, Daniela Santiago
IANS Rating: ***1/2
While on the surface, director Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Parallel Mothers’ is an ordinary story of two women who became mothers on the same day at the same hospital and how their lives intertwine. But, if you look deeper into the narrative, you will find stories of many more mothers, including grandmothers, thus making the film rich and compelling.
The film begins with Madrid-based Janis (Penelope Cruz), a middle-aged and successful professional photographer doing a photoshoot with forensic anthropologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde) for a magazine article. After the shoot, she seeks his help in securing permits and funding from a historical society to excavate a mass grave in her ancestral village, where- according to her family- the body of her great grandfather was dumped during the Spanish Civil War. Janis and her relatives hope to exhume the dead to give them a proper burial.
During this period, romance brews between Janis and Arturo, and an ecstatic Janis finds herself pregnant. She decides to go ahead with the pregnancy and be a single mother.
In the labour room of a maternity ward, during the final stages of her delivery, she meets Ana (Milena Smit), a rebel teenager who, given her circumstances, is anything but happy about having a baby. Janis and Ana bond while their daughters owing to some health issues- are isolated in the observation room, after which they go their separate ways.
Janis names her baby Cecilia after her grandmother. And Ana names her daughter Anita.
While Janis has the support of her dear friend Elena (Rossy de Palma) and an au pair, Ana has Teresa (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), her actress mother, who promises to help raise her granddaughter.
Janis and Ana lead their lives independently as conscientious mothers till fate reunites them to propel the narrative forward.
Visually, in the maternity hospital, with tight closeup frames of the mothers in agonising pain, the film highlights the drama of birth.
And similar to the drama at birth, the film ensures a rhythmic progression that leads to the inevitable resolution. But unlike the high-pitch drama of childbirth, the tension and suspense in the plot are subtle and low-keyed.
Penelope Cruz is spot on as Janis, who is willing to bend her principles to protect her happiness. Similarly, Smit as Ana is commendable. She is radiant in essaying her role as a vulnerable and anguished teenage mother, who is all out to put her stamp on motherhood.
Aitana Sanchez Gijon as Teresa is equally compelling, offering a different dimension to what a conventional mother should be.
Rossy de Palma as Janis’ flamboyant friend Elena, and Israel Elajalde as Arturo are prominent despite having miniscule roles.
Overall, ‘Parallel Mothers’ is an engaging film. You would appreciate it more, only if you knew the customs, traditions, and history of its cinematic universe.