Review: Parallel Mothers
Combining his usual extravagance with a novel, tangential plot structure, Almodóvar’s latest drama promises the world.
Within the first 10 minutes of Parallel Mothers, the formula for another Almodóvar classic is already unfolding: cameras, actresses, beautiful colours, sex, “good” and “bad” mothers and, of course, Penélope Cruz.
The first act sets up the supposedly parallel strands of the film’s metaphorical and literal DNA. On the one hand, we have a melodramatic plot exploring staple Almodovarian themes of motherhood and family, on the other, a literal excavation of the horrific legacy of Spain’s Francoist past, with a plot detailing the unearthing of one of the mass graves of the republican victims of the Civil War, in a radical departure from Almodóvar’s previous philosophy.
During the first half of his career, Almodóvar followed his own self-proclaimed philosophy of making films as if Franco never existed, with his plots slowly becoming more and more interested in the traumas of the past in films such as 2004’s Bad Education. Yet, Parallel Mothers marks perhaps his first film to deal with the dictatorship in such explicit fashion.
The promise of these two simultaneous, impactful storylines instils the optimistic belief that this could potentially be the film to finally rival the director’s Oscar-winning 1999 magnum opus “All About My Mother”, which also explores non-traditional ideas of motherhood and family. Unfortunately, though, as the strands of the film’s DNA-centric plot unravel, apart from an unfortunately clunky ongoing metaphor or two and an attempt to intertwine them at the end in a rushed final act, Almodóvar side-lines the latter of the two stories.
Cruz’s most moving and emotionally sincere performance to date
It is also unfortunately the case that, upon first watch, much of the film’s political commentary, comes in the form of unannounced abrupt instances of dialogue, which serve as little more than blindingly heavy-handed attempts to remind the audience of the presence of the other plot in the film, which is non-existent for large portions of the narrative.
Thankfully, these issues, although significant, are rendered almost negligible by Cruz’s most moving and emotionally sincere performance to date, along with a myriad of other well-written female characters. Moreover, this film is as visually pleasing as any Almodóvar film each frame a delicious morsel of seemingly edible vivid colours, complete with a collection of kitchen set designs that would be at home in a copy of Architectural Digest.
Despite my problems with the twin plots, the subject matter at hand is dealt with in an extremely warm, sober way and with a great sophistication. So, whilst it may not be the best example of Almodóvar’s propensity for writing intricate narratives that tie up perfectly, it is a shining model of his directorial abilities. In Parallel Mothers, Almodóvar creates a world that will have you engaged for the entire duration of its time on the screen.