Parallel Mothers tells the story of Janis (Penélope Cruz) and Ana (Milena Smit) navigating single motherhood with familial conflicts turning cogs in the background. This personal drama is worked in tandem with a political narrative, highlighting the brutality of the Spanish Civil War and its residual generational trauma.
Pedro Almodóvar’s steady and oftentimes intimate direction compensates for scenes where actors may underperform, still drawing viewers in and giving us a mirage of a connection with them. Largely, the actors hold their own; Penélope Cruz’s Oscar nomination comes as no surprise as she is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. Present in nearly every scene, and being her ninth collaboration with director Pedro Almodóvar, the character is written for Cruz and all her charm and wonder.
Almodóvar’s generous use of red is not merely an aesthetic pleasure, but also melds smoothly with themes and motifs of womanhood, family, blood, passion, and Spanish patriotism. And although the film is visually a treat, the choice for a large depth of field for most of its frames, keeping the images in full focus, made for a jarring final look. That being said, there are certain shots where focus is kept on subjects with a shallower depth of field, creating great contrast. These shots being used sparingly may imply a greater intentionality to the final look that lapsed my interpretation of the film.
The score, which flaunts the film’s second Oscar nomination, is immaculate. It not only accompanies and constructs the tonality of the movie, but it aids and masks the pacing issues sprinkled across the film. The score has a character of its own, and of the nominees in its category takes my vote.
Structurally, however, we see Parallel Mothers’ major flaws. The crude dichotomy I drew in the film’s synopsis – that of the personal and the political – is poorly balanced. Once momentum is developed in one, the other is forgotten about and completely lost. And despite the attention the film draws to the cruelty of the Spanish Civil War and its generational aftershocks, the political narrative may leave viewers apathetic towards the tragedies due to the forgettable bookending structure. This, like the few pacing issues, is a critique of Almodóvar’s writing, which, while telling a brilliant and thrilling story, leaves much to be desired. He toys with a time-jump early in the film, which, although very affective, was used as a mere gimmick.
Overall, I enjoyed Parallel Mothers as a viewing experience, leaving appreciating Penélope Cruz’s acting and Pedro Almodóvar’s eye more than ever. It also reminded me of how integral music can be to giving a film its spirit. Although there are issues with other actors’ performances and parts of its structure and pacing, leaving me checking my watch on a few occasions, other features like the direction and the score pull it back into place. Amidst Oscar season, Parallel Mothers is definitely worth your time and money.