Venice Film Festival 2021: Parallel Mothers

The great Pedro Almodóvar returns with a twist-filled melodrama about two single mothers – one played by Almodóvar regular Penelope Cruz

Film Review by Anahit Behrooz | 04 Sep 2021
  • Parallel Mothers, Penelope Cruz and Milena Smit
Film title: Parallel Mothers
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Israel Elejalde, Julieta Serrano, Rossy de Palma

A chaotic whirl of vivid colour and misunderstanding fit for the horniest and queerest of Shakespeare plays, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest proves his audacious sensibility is going nowhere, even when treading his most politically mature ground.

Parallel Mothers first meets its two titular mothers, Janis (a powerhouse performance by Penelope Cruz) and teenaged Ana (played by enchanting up-and-comer Milena Smit), on the brink of expectancy and traces their paths in the following years as they – in contradiction to the film’s wry title – collide and intersect. The turns of Almodóvar’s script are too delightful to spoil, but suffice to say there is enough melodrama here for the trashiest telenovela, and neither mothers nor babies are quite who they seem. Yet what strikes most amid the relentless soap-operatic beats is Almodóvar’s subversively restrained approach, grounding each new plot twist in the emotional realities of these women: their quiet domesticities, their searing intimacies. 

This unexpected sobriety is bolstered by a half-subplot, half-framing device in which Janis employs the services of her eventual baby daddy to excavate the mass graves of those killed in her village during the Spanish Civil War. Coupled with a visual language that stresses a nonsexual kind of voyeurism – babies seen through monitors, photographer Janis framing her subjects through her lens – Parallel Mothers transforms into an unforgettable interrogation of the instability of historical memory, and the imperative of gazing unflinchingly at our collective, bloodied pasts. Intoxicatingly alive even amid death, this might be Almodóvar’s most radically human work yet.

Parallel Mothers had its world premiere at Venice Film Festival
Read more of our Venice coverage here