wed 19/06/2024

Parallel Mothers review - letting the dead speak | reviews, news & interviews

Parallel Mothers review - letting the dead speak

Parallel Mothers review - letting the dead speak

Pedro Almodóvar digs up the past in a restrained exploration of Franco's legacy

Ana (Milena Smit) and Janis (Penélope Cruz)

Almodóvar has rarely returned to the petrified Spain of his youth, flinging off Franco’s oppression by ignoring it in his early films of freewheeling provocation, where anarchic, hot freedom was all of the law. In this sober tale of secrets and lies, though, his nation’s past is literally dug up.

Janis (Penélope Cruz) is a photographer living a chic Madrid life, but the village where she was raised is still haunted by the Fascist murder of her great-grandfather and others. Dishy forensic archaeologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde) agrees to help find the bodies, and in elegantly edited elisions we see them make love; Janis pregnant; then befriending teenage Ana (Milena Smit) in the maternity ward. Doubts about just whose baby Janis has brought home soon creep in, Alberto Iglesias’s score giving Hitchcock vibes to the domestic disquiet. When Ana bumps into Janis again, the need for truth and reconciliation suddenly strikes close to home.

Milena Smit and Aitana Sánchez-Gijón in Parallel MothersAlmodóvar’s previous feature, Pain and Glory, seemed to signal a mature, reflective phase, as his great early star Antonio Banderas played a famous gay Spanish director aching with age, and immobilised by doubt. Almodóvar – whose press round for Parallel Mothers was unusually earnest – keeps quiet here. Sex scenes are discreet, colours muted pastel, the smoothly episodic narrative mostly set indoors, with few people. The machinery of filmmaking has vanished, Almodóvar’s experience letting him work invisibly, modestly. There are laughs, and tears, and mild, building unease as the matter of maternity comes to a head. But nothing distracts from Parallel Mothers’ true, serious purpose.

Cruz played the director’s Franco-era mother in Pain and Glory; along with Volver, Almodóvar’s only previous acknowledgement of the precise repression his work fizzingly overturned. Here, she’s masterfully natural, her star quality lighting up a more ordinary woman from within. Smit – a young sometime model, like Cruz when, aged 16, she blazed through Jamón, Jamón – is contrastingly soft-spoken and soft-featured. In a film where non-nuclear family options get built on the run (even as rural family roots run deep), Janis is part-mother, part-lover to Ana.

Rossy de Palma, Israel Elejalde, Penelope Cruz and Milena Smit in Parallel MothersAnother veteran international Spanish star, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón (pictured with Smit), is Ana’s actual, actress mother Teresa, who chooses her theatrical big break over helping her daughter with parenthood, fiercely channelling her feelings of faded middle-age into Lorca’s Doña Rosita the Spinster. A long, appropriately theatrical scene with Almodóvar’s camera close in sees Teresa defend her maternal lacks to Janis. In a script of neat unity, the women’s politics – the sides they’d have taken in the war – rise to the surface. Of course, “apolitical” Teresa’s break came with a playwright shot by Fascists.

Finally, everyone moves out to the wide, green fields and big sky of Janis’s rustic home. Her grandmother is among the few who remember the massacre, when her father climbed out of his muddy grave once, only to be reburied for good – the sort of story that has to be true. She was 3 then. As the archaeologists sieve bones as if planting seeds, her rattle turns up in the soil. When Cruz is joined by fellow Almodóvar old-stager Rossy de Palma (pictured above left with Smit, Elejalde and Cruz) on the villagers’ march towards the grave, it feels like a noble, communal act against forgetting, by cast as much as characters. As Eduardo Galeano’s closing epitaph insists, “History refuses to shut its mouth.” Perhaps it had to be Almodóvar, the antithesis of Franco’s patriarchal, cruelly religious Spain who became its symbolic replacement, who should finally be moved to let the dead speak.

The machinery of filmmaking has vanished, Almodóvar’s experience letting him work invisibly, modestly


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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