Parallel Mothers (123 mins) now streaming on GooglePlay, Apple+, Neon, AroVision.
In Spanish, with subtitles
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Parallel Mothers is beautifully told and sensitively filmed.
Penelope Cruz won the best actress award for her role as Janis at last September's Venice Film Festival and Variety says it's Almodóvar's best film since All About My Mother (1999).
In view of all those accolades, it's puzzling that it's only been in some New Zealand cinemas briefly and that Netflix has bought exclusive rights to it, but only for Latin America. Luckily, it's available on four other streaming platforms in Aotearoa.
Janis, a professional photographer, is nearly 40 when she unexpectedly has a baby, the result of an affair with one of her subjects, Arturo (Israel Elejalde), a famous forensic archaeologist, who may be about to uncover what happened to Janis' family generations ago at the hands of Franco.
Almodóvar has used an interesting cinematic technique for Janis as photographer, showing through Janis' lens full-screen portrait shots of Arturo that reveal a lot about him, and also about Janis.
Later, when Janis is occupied with caring for baby Anita and finding it hard to get glamorous work such as taking photographs of famous archaeologists, she accepts work photographing shoes and bags, capably adapting to her situation. She has to do a lot of adaptation as the story unfolds.
Through Janis' other lens, her personal one, we see her becoming unnerved when Arturo, on the fringe of her life taking no parenting role, comments that 1-year-old Anita doesn't look like either of them. Without flashbacks, just with the gentle layering of the plot, we explore with Janis the possibility that when her baby was taken with another newborn for observation, the wrong babies were handed back.
In the maternity ward alongside Janis, we had seen a teenage mother, Ana (Milena Smit), diffidently start to mother her own baby, Cecilia, alone. We don't find out until near the end of the film the circumstances that led to Ana's pregnancy, but we do find out about how the people responsible for raising Ana have never connected with her.
Her own mother, Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), prefers to lean on her off-screen ex-husband to support Ana financially, while clinging on to her acting career and disregarding her daughter's needs for love and support.
Once Janis has worked out what probably happened to babies Anita and Cecilia at birth, she re-connects with Ana. Despite the age gap, the two women become close after sharing their experiences of being disconnected from their own mothers. Surprising plot layers are revealed.
Funding is eventually approved for the unearthing of the graves of Janis' family, Arturo comes back on the scene to take charge and soon, Janis, Ana and Arturo are bound together by deeply affecting secrets, both current and historic, that have to be told.
The movie shows how life's events can turn us into different versions of ourselves. Its plot twists are taut and gripping, its messages haunting. Highly recommended.
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