The story and setting for Parallel Mothers all feel like familiar territory for Pedro Almodovar who has garnered a career on his melodramas focusing on women, mothers, lovers and usually involving a devastating secret. The colours red and black are heavily featured throughout, as well as the use of kitchens and food, all staples of his films in this genre. After his very personal film, Pain and Glory, this film is a step back to what the director does best.
Janis is a photographer in her 40s when she meets the married Arturo, an anthropologist who she has asked to help with the excavation of a grave in her home town. During their affair she becomes pregnant and keeps the baby, deciding to raise the child alone. In the hospital she meets the very young Ana, who regrets her pregnancy. The two women comfort each other throughout their labour and stay in contact after the births. Sometime later Janis discovers a devastating truth that will disrupt and change hers and Ana’s life.
The bond that Janis and Ana create is by chance. As both single women, both pregnant by accident, one who is ecstatic about the prospect of motherhood, the other terrified. We know more about Janis who wants to continue the tradition of single mothers in her family, strong independent and unwavering. But Ana is more of a mystery, that is until she reappears in Janis’ life after a tragedy that has changed her completely. Ana’s own mother seems set to become a third character in this trio of mothers, sharing her desire to be an actress over wanting motherhood, but she soon disappears again, a fleeting mother who shares none of the maternal instincts Janis and Ana have. But everything changes when Janis discovers a shocking truth, shifting the story into the melodramatic sphere. The fallout from this discovery sends the story into another direction away from motherhood but into that of the dynamics of how Janis and Ana fit together, even at one point becoming sexually involved. At first it seems like the natural progression of their relationship but with the aching secret between them, it just becomes a matter of time before the secret is revealed.
The story has an unusually long set up and begins as if it will lead in a completely different direction. The backstory about the mass grave in Janis’ hometown where her Great-Grandfather was killed looks to the past for answers and closure. The story is set up to be one that focuses on the torrid history of Spain and the pain and suffering caused. But as soon as Janis becomes pregnant the film takes a sharp turn that you would expect from Almodovar. With such a rich idea that isn’t followed through until the latter part of the film, it is almost tacked on to the end to gain an emotional punch that was missed earlier in the story. These are two ideas moulded together that don’t quite gel. This is a shame as both ideas are fascinating and maybe deserved to be separated.
Just concentrating on the main story, motherhood and unknown deception, Almodovar is truly at his best. Exploring female characters to their inner most desires and fears is where he creates his best cinematic stories. Beautifully shot and constructed minus the history aspects, compelling on their own, Parallel Mothers is another melodrama classic.
Parallel Mothers will be released on 28 January 2022.