Hold on to your seats and prepare for a wild switched-at-birth story with twists along the way. Subtitled films are always a great way to practice your language skills, and this is true as you watch the Spanish film Madres Paralelas, translated to Parallel Mothers. Penelope Cruz stands out as Janis, a stylish professional photographer in Madrid, who meets forensic anthropologist Arturo, played by Israel Elejalde. They form both a sexual and a professional bond when she asks him to help excavate a grave in her hometown. Although not planning to get pregnant, Janis is pleased nonetheless, because she is nearing 40 and didn’t think she would have children. Because Arturo has complications in his marriage and plans to remain, she is content to raise the baby on her own.
As her life intersects with Ana’s, played skillfully by Milena Smit, in the hospital as they are both about to give birth, she has no idea that the chance encounter will later turn her whole world upside down. The film then follows their parallel lives in the first years of raising their children. Interestingly, when Arturo is introduced to Janis’ daughter Cecilia, he immediately doesn’t feel like the baby is his and wants a DNA test. It plants the seed of doubt in Janis’ mind and ultimately, she finds the answer. As a naïve teenage mother, Ana doesn’t have much parental support, especially from her non-maternal actress mother Teresa, played convincingly by Aitana Sánchez-Gijón. When Janis and Ana reconnect, the circumstances have dramatically changed, and a web of deceit and relationships entangle the two. Janis ends up playing many roles in Ana’s life, which are revealed throughout the film.
The movie intertwines personal and political stories, which are fictional, but representative of real life. Viewers get a glimpse of the Spanish Civil War atrocities through Janis’ search for the remains of her great grandfather, along with other men from her village. Cruz is the true star as she illuminates the screen, showing both her happiness and profound sadness, as the story unfolds. She currently resides in her native Madrid, Spain with husband Javier Bardem, both of whom are Academy Award winners, with their children.
This movie was filmed in Madrid, but don’t expect many panoramic scenery shots, instead you will see visually pleasing and real life interior and actor closeups. The film debuted at the Venice Film Festival in September 2021 with great reviews. It was written and directed by internationally acclaimed Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar, who incidentally has worked in seven film collaborations with Cruz, starting back in 1997. He has won numerous awards, including two Oscars, and is known for bright colors, melodrama, and notable music. The film’s score was expertly composed by the popular Alberto Iglesias, who often works with Almodóvar.
My friends, Tom and Cyndee, also saw the movie and felt it “catches your attention, interest, and emotions and keeps them carefully contained until completion.” They enjoyed the well-developed, intriguing characters, and thought that even with subtitles the movie was easy to follow and made it authentic to the culture. You have to love the ease of parking, reasonable prices, uncrowded feeling, and limited previews that combine to make going to Village Theatre a delightful escape.
Don’t expect a happy, uplifting film in this gem, but get ready for intense drama, which Cruz amazingly delivers. Be prepared to use your imagination to fill in the blanks when the story ends.
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Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Actors: Penélope Cruz, Rossy de Palma, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón
Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes
Rating: R (some sexuality)