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Parallel Mothers: Tim Cruises Through Spanish Cinema

Posted by April 12th, 2022 1 Comment »

Parallel Mothers (2022)
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Starring Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit and Israel Elejalde

Film, like other mediums, opens doorways. Often those doorways become rabbit holes.
Throughout my life I’ve welcomed this phenomenon. Usually, I go down an artistic rabbit hole when an actor or director I’m not familiar with delivers an amazing performance. Other times it’s when I discover the magnificence of a genre or sub-genre I’d largely avoided.

More recently, my artistic rabbit holes have centered around a nation of origin, first with a deep dive into South Korean cinema after viewing Parasite (2019) and now with Spain after viewing Pedro Almodóvar’s latest high-art melodrama Parallel Mothers.

Despite knowing nothing about director or the film, other than it would be in Spanish and star Penélope Cruz, I was immediately engaged from the opening scene – a career woman in her 40s meeting a man and having sex. “Was this a love story? Wait…ohhhh, it’s a modern feminist journey through pregnancy? Wait, is it a thriller? I’m confused.”

This uncertainty led to my ultimate enjoyment as I finally let down my guard as the third act approached. I was not only entertained, I learned something valuable about a culture I know little about: Spain and its troubled fascist past.

From veteran, award-winning Penélope Cruz as new mother Janis to newcomer Milena Smit as new mother Ana, and everyone in between, there are no weak links in the Parellel Mothers cast. During the film’s first act I was tempted to write off the performances as overly melodramatic, but as the story moved along at a perfect pace I was reassured by the skill of the actors and the lines they spoke. This is an accurate representation of two generations of mothers in modern Madrid.

Visually, the cinematography is captivating, with thoughtful, beautiful transitions and framing. I hope my deep dive into Spanish cinema includes many a film shot by cinematographer José Luis Alcaine. The overall direction and editing are also exemplary. Each scene is exactly as long as it should be and moves perfectly to the next, sometimes with jarring brevity and other times with an intentional patience that adds to the tension.

For this particular rabbit hole, Parallel Mothers served as a perfect bookend to the film that introduced me to modern Spanish Cinema, The Spirit of the Beehive (1973). Now it’s time to fill the shelves of my mind with everything in between. ((Confession, I just watched Volver (2006) and I can’t stop! Up next? Hmm, how about Open Your Eyes (1997)?))

If you have Spanish cinema recommendations please post them in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter at @timbasaraba.

If Víctor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive is an A- and Volver is an A then Parallel Mothers is a A+.

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