Madres paralelas ***
by Pedro Almodovar
Spanish film, 2 hours
In a maternity hospital in Madrid, two single women cross paths and confide in each other just before giving birth. One, Janis (Penélope Cruz), photographer, pregnant with Arturo (Israel Elejalde), a married man. The other, Ana (Milena Smit), too young, frightened by what is happening to her, tormented by remorse, overwhelmed by this unwanted pregnancy.
His mother, a narcissistic actress, only preoccupied with her career, leaving for a tour in the provinces, will not be of any help to her. Obviously, childbirth frees Ana from her previous torments and suddenly gives her a glimpse of the happiness of being a mother.
Giving birth to a daughter as well, at the same time as her roommate, Janis is at the height of what she hoped for. However, their two babies have to stay in the hospital for a few days for minor complications.
The past that does not pass in Spain
The painful Francoist heritage, which runs through almost all Spanish families, inaugurates and closes this intense and gripping film. At Janis’ request, Arturo, a forensic archaeologist, can help her open a mass grave where her great-grandfather and nine members of his family were savagely buried. This proposal opens the other front of the film. The past that does not pass in Spain.
Janis chased from his life Arturo, linked to his wife, who had cancer, who could not assume her accidental paternity. And she cut ties with Ana. She finds her, by chance, a year later, on the terrace of a cafe where the young woman is a waitress. Janis offers Ana to live with her to take care of her daughter.
→ CRITICAL. “Las Ninas”, Spain with two faces
But the chain of circumstances and the confusion of feelings, masterfully arranged by the magician Almodovar, lock Janis in the pain of an unbearable secret. With the terror that we discover what she hides or that the house of cards of her lies collapses, exposing her to the shock of the truth. A poignant psychological thriller by the accumulation of moral questions posed by Janis, prisoner of a selfish decision that haunts, stifles and traps her.
The pain of an unlivable secret
Never had Almodovar locked, with such tension, one of his characters in a haunting, untenable dilemma. Penélope Cruz, her favorite actress, seven films together, radiates with her presence, luminous and strongly contrasted, this drama of which she bears all the weight. Magnificently photographed by the director of photography José Luis Alcaine, sublimated by the gaze of the filmmaker, her beauty covers the darkness of her conscience which leaves her no respite.
It crumbles from the inside but tries to preserve appearances, to play the comedy of recklessness. Sooner or later, the interior dikes will eventually give way. Just like the dark hours of Spain, which Almodovar unearths to better face them. Around the buried mass graves, which the new generation demands to reopen, begins a soothing of the memory that will have to consolidate the children born today.
A beautiful gravity surrounds this diabolical scenario which is unraveled little by little to smooth the intimate contradictions of the characters. Each of them is led to walk in himself, to reassess his urgencies and to get closer to others. As we know, Almodovar magnifies women, always knows how to find suitable actresses. And Rossy de Palma going through the film, once again, like a tornado, brings the point of balance that Janis lacks.
Around Penélope Cruz, black sun, ardent and charcoal, of this moving melodrama, revolve Milena Smit, the great revelation of this film by her interpretation of wounded fragility, vulnerability, resilience, and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon (the Ana’s failing mother), spotted in the theater by Almodovar. Like the excellent and vibrant Israel Elejalde who searches the bruised earth to wrest its truths from it, and whom Janis forces to reveal to himself.
Penélope Cruz, the muse of Pedro Almodovar
Actress Penélope Cruz has appeared in seven films by the Spanish director.
1997. In the flesh (Carne tremula).
1999. Everything about my mother (Todo sobre mi madre).
2006. Volver, Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival and a dozen awards around the world.
2009. Broken embraces (Los abrazos rotos).
2013. The Passing Lovers (Los amantes pasajeros).
2019. Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria).
2021. Madres paralelas, prize for best female interpretation at the Venice Film Festival.