“Parallel Mothers” (2021 Spain) by Pedro Almodovar

by Cynthia Webb, 18th February 2022

Photo: Pedro Almodovar with Penelope Cruz

PARALLEL MOTHERS  (Spain, 2021) directed by Pedro Almodovar  

By Cynthia Webb

I must say right now that since his first film in 1981, Almodovar made me sit up and take notice, and I made a mental-note which I have obeyed from 1981 until 2022 (so far). The note said “Don’t miss any film this man directs.”  I obeyed my own resolution, and this has paid off, and then some! The first film was more or less an indie film made and financed by Pedro and friends and they did it over the weekends while they all had other jobs. It was very rough and full of continuity and every other kind of error, but yet you could see the energy and raw talent.

Pedro Almodovar was a village boy, a gay young man, living in the Madrid of a certain era, when after the long lasting trauma of the Spanish Civil War, Madrid entered an approximately five year period called 'movida'.  It would seem that it took almost fifty years for the nation to recover from that appalling event, plus get through the following years under the dictator Franco, who was   leader of this most terrible of all things… a  civil war where the right-wing rich and powerful were willing to kill their own countrymen rather than admit to their right to be respected and to have enough payment for their labour, to have a decent life. This war is famous for being a sort of “practice-run", observed and assisted by German Fascists. 

Back to Madrid, 1980, where Pedro was a creative and wild young man. He has told us that himself via all his films. But it is clear from seeing all his films and reading about him, and listening to all that he has said about his life and work, that Pedro lived life sincerely, and to the depth of his being. He has expressed it all in by now 23 films. He has tremendous empathy for everyone, but especially for women. In every film you get the feeling that he loves his characters.  He writes all his own screenplays.

As you can already see,  I am totally biased and I just LOVE him and every film he has ever made. Today I went to the cinema to see his latest film. “Parallel Mothers” and yes, it was another remarkable work by a man who is now regarded as a maestro of world cinema – and especially by me.

Pedro Almodovar has said in an interview I read recently, that early on he made a conscious decision to refrain from ever mentioning/acknowledging the existence of  Franco, and the Spanish Civil war, in his films. But now with “Parallel Mothers”  he has decided to face up to something that for him was too horrible to contemplate before. With age has come the realisation that the time has come to include it.  

This beautiful film is actually about family and friends, but it is also Pedro’s ‘coming out' from his vow to ignore Franco and the horror of the Spanish Civil War. He has at last said it out loud, using the opening of a mass grave nearby to a Spanish village, in which the men of that village were murdered by the Fascists during the nineteen-thirties. The film's unforgettable final shot is sheer genius.

As for the the story, it opens with a flashback to when Janis (named after Janis Joplin) a professional photographer, meets Arturo, who is a professional in the tragic contemporary work of opening up mass graves from the time of the Spanish Civil War. Janis's family and friends back in her own village know exactly where the mass grave is and who is in it,and they wish to open that grave and give their male forebears a proper burial. She has been engaged to photograph him, and afterwards she asks for Arturo's help. Their meeting leads to a love affair. He promises to present their case to the right authorities.
This part of the story will resonate for people in Indonesia, who also recall mass killings during the Communist purges of 1965-66 and know where there are mass graves in their land too. As recently as ten years ago this was still a forbidden subject. 

Cut now, to two women whose ages are about 20 years apart, Janis, and Ana, who meet at the Hospital labour ward where both about to give birth. They form a friendship which is facilitated by their shared experience, as so often happens ( not just in labour wards of maternity hospitals).   These women both give birth to daughters and they are both ‘single mothers’.  Both babies need to have a bit of extra care for a day immediately after birth. The women exchange contact phone numbers and resolve to meet soon.  I don’t want to say anything more about the plot, except to tell you that you will observe a most wonderful performance by almost everyone, but in particular from Penelope Cruz.

As I said before at the conclusion of the film, while leaving the cinema my heart told me that it is definitely about the importance of family and friends, and please tell me – is there anything more important? No, I don’t think so.  

If I were forced to, I would only admit that this film didn’t affect me quite so profoundly as “Pain and Glory” (2019) where I had tears running down my cheeks, but not because of anything sad, just because it was such perfection of filmmaking.  To any follower of Almodovar's life and filmography it was clearly autobiographical and he said so. Antonio Banderas played his alter-ego. Almodovar himself discovered and cast Banderas in Labyrinth of Passion back in 1982. Almost 30 years on, they collaborated on that superb film. It had the kind of delicacy and emotion rarely seen in a film.

  However I was 100% involved in "Parallel Mothers" and loving it. My mind stayed glued to it. I notice that when watching films of a lesser quality, the mind has a way of wandering, and if you ever look at your watch, well this is the worst possible sign. You might as well just give it up right there. However, not with "Parallel Mothers". If I were a Spanish citizen… I do NOT think I would say that. For them, perhaps "Parallel Mothers" goes to the depths of their soul, because this history would be intensely emotional and more important than anything else. Even as I write, I am thinking that I should see this film again.  (All brilliant films require at least a second viewing, and some we just keep on going back to all our lives.)

From 30 years of watching Pedro Almodovar’s films as he made them, and also sometimes going back and picking one to watch again, what I have seen is that of course as he went along, he got better and better,  more mature and delving deeper. He went from 'rough and ready'with the hobby film "Pepi, Luci, Bom and the Others"(1981) to total finesse exhibiting control of every aspect of his artform. 

You might be thinking that I am totally biased, and you are right. Pedro makes it impossible not to be!  His work is so personal, that it is like being in a real friendship with the man, because he tells us everything, he draws us into his own heart. 

by Cynthia Webb
copyright February 2022

About cynephilia

Lifetime student of and devourer of international Cinema. Artist, teacher, traveller - especially to my "other home", Java, Indonesia. Features writer for 14 years, for The Jakarta Post, national English language daily newspaper. I was born in New Zealand, but lived in Queensland, Australia since 1970. My profound link with Indonesia began in 1983, when visiting Bali (then an island of arts and of inspiration for an artist), and then again in 1994 when a visit to Yogyakarta, Java, began a process of that town and it's warm people becoming another home and extended family for me. Yogyakarta is the Artistic capital of Indonesia, and so it was the place for me. In 2000 I became a regular contributor about the arts for The Jakarta Post, and cinema, my lifetime passion, later began to become my focus for writing. The advent of The Asia Pacific Screen Awards, (APSA) in South East Queensland, launched in 2007 gave me opportunities to meet some the great film-makers of Asia, and see their amazing work. APSA is a kind of "Oscars" for the Asia-Pacific Region.
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