‘Parallel Mothers’ Review: The Brutal, Beautiful World of Almodóvar

“World building” often refers to how sci-fi and fantasy makers construct their spaces, filling them with imaginary creatures and allegorical meanings. But of all living filmmakers, the most extraordinary world founder may be Pedro Almodóvar. Many directors have a style. Almodóvar evokes a cosmos – a space of bright colors, piercing music (often by Alberto Iglesias) and swirling melodrama. If you have visited in the past, you will be dying to return.

That doesn’t mean almodóvariais, as I sometimes think, a realm entirely separate from the boring planet most of us live on. It’s a (often) version of Spain, informed by that country’s aesthetic and literary traditions, a legacy that encompasses the perverse whims of Surrealism and the frank-hearted pathos of flamenco. Almodóvar’s new feature “Parallel Mothers” adds an element he had previously avoided: The legacy of the Spanish Civil War and the nearly 40 years of dictatorship that followed.

At first, war seems like a possible, poignant entry point into the unique Almodóvarian vortex of present-day romantic turmoil and domestic suffering. Janis (Penélope Cruz, never better) is a photographer who shoots a very handsome forensic anthropologist for a magazine. His name is Arturo (Elejalde of Israel) and his gruesome expertise is in examining the remains of Franco’s victims, many of whom are buried in unnamed mass graves. One of those graves is in Janis’ hometown. His great-grandfather was part of a group of men who were taken from their homes at the beginning of the war and were never seen again. He asks Arturo if he can help with the investigation.

He offers to do whatever he can, and then he and Janis sleep together. She becomes pregnant – married – and decides to raise her child on her own. All of this happens quickly and appears to be a complex narrative mechanism designed to introduce Janis to Ana (Milena Smit), a teenager she meets in the maternity ward. They give birth to girls almost simultaneously and promise to stay in touch.

Their relationship will go through friendship, love, devastating loss, deception and despair. The main subject of “Parallel Mothers” is the old Almodóvar: a tangle of reversals, revelations, surprises and coincidences solved with style, wit and emotion. Background and temperament contrasts between Janis and Ana provide the dominant hues. Born to a hippie mother (who named her after Janis Joplin), Janis was raised by her grandmother. She grew up a practical, independent, warm-hearted yet emotionless Madrileña. His best friend is a graceful magazine editor played by Rossy de Palma, who in its purest essence is a sculptural avatar of Almodóvarismo.

Ana is the son of an (unseen) Granada-based father and Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), a mother who is immersed in her acting career. Despite Ana’s unhappy circumstances (her pregnancy is the result of rape), an air of exclusivity grips her family. Teresa, the kind of woman who could be the protagonist of an earlier Almodóvar movie – often drawn to the theater and to the toughness and vulnerability of actresses – is a kind of villain here, an authoritative narcissist who can’t quite admit it. the reality of her daughter’s experiences.

Janis doesn’t exactly replace Teresa in Ana’s life. He has his own problems to face, some similar to Ana’s, some contradicting them. “Parallel Mothers” actually criticizes its own title. The two characters mirror each other in some ways, but no one’s story goes in a straight line. Confusion is inevitable. Almodóvarian geometry is hyperbolic, non-Euclidean, twisted and tortuous geometry.

But Almodóvar’s art is also characterized by emotional precision and moral clarity. What happens to Ana and Janis is not just a coincidence or a narrative trick; their relationship, which is key to the film’s structure, has a political dimension.

When Arturo returns to painting, he is reminded of an unfinished historical work. At first, the horrors of the past may seem like the scaffolding for a modern story, but the final episodes of “Parallel Mothers” show just the opposite. Injustice continues for generations. Failure to confront it casts a permanent, ugly shadow.

This shade is a new element in Almodóvar’s imaginary universe and challenges some of his artistic assumptions. A reality as rigid, brutal, and unresolved as the fascist terror that dominated Spain in the mid-20th century does not fit comfortably in its elegant frames and melodramatic arrogance. That may be the purpose of “Parallel Mothers”, and the purity of its final scenes is a measure of its success. We build new worlds to understand the world we live in.

parallel mothers
Rated R. Sex, violence, tragedy. Spanish, with subtitles. Run time: 2 hours 3 minutes. In movie theaters.

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