Parallel mothers review: pregnancy plot unfolds in sharp political criticism

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Pedro Almodóvar’s films have long focused on marginalized individuals – the excluded, the mistreated, the neglected. However, these stories were far from melancholy tragedies. Injecting a distinctly Spanish sense of humor (and lots of primary colors), Almodóvar empowers his protagonists by allowing them to assert themselves in a world that continually tries to relegate them to the sidelines. With Parallel mothers, his 22nd feature film, the 72-year-old filmmaker continues to defend the oppressed, this time the victims of Spain’s national atrocities. While the film contains allusions to Almodóvar’s penchant for fast-paced comedy and cohesive color palettes, it conveys the grim sense of Spain’s cultural amnesia, culminating in an unexpectedly devastating emotional climax.

Located in 2016, Parallel mothers follows Janice (Penélope Cruz), a professional photographer in her forties who begins an adventure with forensic anthropologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde). Nine months after a particularly scorching encounter, she checks in to the maternity ward of a Madrid hospital, preparing to give birth and raising her child as a single mother. As fate willed her, her roommate is in a similar position, except that she is over 20 years younger than Janice: Ana (newcomer Milena Smit) is also without a partner, her only support during childbirth being her self-centered actress mother. (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). While Janice is thrilled to have had the impromptu opportunity to become a mother, Ana is initially irritated by the circumstances that led to her pregnancy. Still, the two quickly bond, wandering the sterile hallways of the hospital in an effort to help their babies descend into the womb. Coincidentally, they both give birth to beautiful baby girls and exchange numbers to keep in touch as they embark on the journey of found motherhood.

While the film is presented as a straightforward examination of the peculiar dangers of parenthood – especially for women raising children outside the confines of conventional heterosexual nuclear families – Almodóvar instead uses multiple generations of matriarchs to bring light to families irreparably. broken by the cruelty of the not-so-distant Spanish fascist regime. The initial reason Janice approaches Arturo is to ask him if he could use his connections to organize the excavation of a mass grave in his hometown – one of the bodies buried being that of his great-grandfather.

He is just one of some 114,226 citizens who fell victim to the violent anti-Communist persecution of the Spanish Civil War, a fascist uprising that ultimately led to the nearly 40-year reign of Francisco Franco, from 1936 to his died 1975. Although a surprisingly large figure, the exact number of “missing” people (citizens who were forcibly abducted, tortured and murdered by paramilitary forces) is difficult to discern, mainly due to the many anonymous graves in which they were killed and buried. In some cases, the mausoleums were built to serve as a sick testament to extreme right-wing barbarism: one such site on the outskirts of Madrid, The Valley of the Fallen, contains the remains of 33,000 victims from this period. fascist domination. While repulsive in its scale of senseless slaughter, it is seen as a point of pride for conservatives, especially because Franco’s own body has been properly buried in this site, continuing to trample on the dignity of tens of thousands of people. innocent even in death. Although his body was ultimately removed by the Socialist government in 2019, which subsequently ordered earlier this year that The Valley of the Fallen begin an exhumation process, there remains a reluctance among much of the Spanish population. regarding the matter.

Many Almodóvar films highlight generational quarrels and contrasts. While Parallel mothers sticks to its motive of questioning intra-generational matrilineages, these characters also exist as an investigation into wider Spanish cultural attitudes. Janice stubbornly pursues the case of her great-grandfather’s exhumation, which Ana roughly dismisses as “obsessive” in nature. Furious at the ignorance of the younger generation, Janice explains that the war is not really over if its atrocities are not accounted for. Janice was raised by her grandmother, the daughter of her executed great-grandfather, who lived during the Civil War and Franco’s reign. Janice’s own mother was a “hippie” who came of age in the aftermath of Franco’s death, enjoying the creative renaissance that followed by pursuing artistic passions. If she hadn’t been raised by her grandmother, who remembered the war and lived most of her life under the dictatorship, Janice might not have become a strong advocate for the cause of his great-grandfather. Conversely, Ana was raised by an “apolitical” actress mother (often a dog whistle for indifference to injustice) and therefore never felt outrage for the past ills of her. his country.

In many ways, Parallel mothers is also an atonement on Almodóvar’s part for his own distancing from this period in Spanish history, especially as his own film career flourished after Franco’s decline. Although he was first expelled from film school after his institution was closed by the Franco regime in the early 1970s, he nevertheless rose to prominence during La Movida Madrileña, an artistic boom that relished the rise of democracy. Instead of addressing the decades of repression that plagued the nation, many artists chose to focus on long-awaited freedoms of expression (one of Almodóvar’s first films, Fuck … Fuck … Fuck me, Tim!, illustrates this frantic race to exhibit sexual provocations). Perhaps with recent government initiatives to finally deal with the victims of the civil war and Franco’s reign, Almodóvar finally felt it was vital that he address the long-standing lack of commitment. date from Spain to condemn its bloody past.

For a director who has never hesitated to portray on screen the most controversial taboos in society – incest, rape, suicide attempts, pedophilia and even golden showers – the fact that he took his entire career to explicitly incorporate the effects of the Spanish Civil War. The war in his work demonstrates the country’s relative inability to take them into account. Although Almodóvar has said that none of his own family fell victim to fascist brutality, his dedication to the continued plight of the families of those who perished gives the film an almost unusual sense of lightness and sorrow. . While this is certainly a change in the filmmaker’s melodramatic and extravagant sensibility (although this has changed considerably since his semi-autobiographical 2019 film Pain and Glory, followed by the deconstructive short film Human voice), he never feels mismanaged in his take, always remaining responsive even incorporating shocking twists and revelations. Particularly associated with Cruz’s eliminatory performance of a woman whose life endures the legacy left by the trauma of her family’s unresolved past, Parallel mothers is a deeply political example of what is lost when we forget and what is achieved when we fight to remember.

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Writers: Pedro Almodovar
Stars: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Rossy de Palma, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón
Release date: December 24, 2021 (Sony Pictures Classics)


Natalia Keogan is a freelance screenwriter based in Queens, New York. His work has been featured in Paste Magazine, Blood Knife Magazine, and Filmmaker Magazine, among others. Find her on Twitter @nataliakeogan


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