In Review

Film review: Parallel Mothers 

Penélope Cruz shines in a domestic drama that explores Franco’s legacy

“With most films, you know exactly what you’ll be getting within the first ten minutes,” said Deborah Ross in The Spectator. Not so with Parallel Mothers: a “delicious and beautifully styled” drama from the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. Penélope Cruz stars as Janis, a photographer who has a fling with a forensic anthropologist called Arturo (Israel Elejalde). She gets pregnant, and when Arturo stands by his wife, who has cancer, she decides to raise the baby alone. In hospital, Janis meets Ana (a “terrific” Milena Smit), a teenager whose circumstances are even more complicated, and whose life becomes intertwined with hers. Alongside this domestic drama runs a second plot strand, concerning Janis’s desire to have Arturo exhume the mass grave where her grandfather was buried in the Spanish Civil War. The narrative is twisty and full of surprises, but “it all adds up to an immensely rich, satisfying whole”. 

In less skilful hands, said Wendy Ide in The Observer, the film’s “dual focus, which pulls us backwards and forwards” through time, might have been unwieldy. But Almodóvar “makes a light-footed dance of it”, expertly weaving together the story’s many threads. Above all, it’s Cruz who sets the tone “with a performance that radiates warmth”; she has surely “never been better”. Cruz certainly brings “incontestable, blazing life” to the film, said Edward Porter in The Sunday Times, but I found its handling of the history clumsy. Liberals in Spain are pushing to “disinter the crimes of the Franco years, an agenda fiercely opposed by right-wing populists”; in “doing his bit” for the cause, Almodóvar has extended the range of his work, but created a “slightly uneven film”.

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