DVD/Blu-ray: Parallel Mothers

Parallel mothers unfolds at an audaciously slow pace, and there are times in the first half of Pedro Almodóvar’s 2021 drama where you wish things would speed up.

And then you’re caught off guard by the unexpected shifts in tone and direction, and amazed at the veteran director’s ability to weave together so many seemingly disparate threads. Penélope Cruz plays the well-to-do photographer Janis; falling pregnant after an affair with Israel Elijalde’s married forensic anthropologist, Arturo (whom Janis asks to help investigate a Civil War grave in her home village), she later shares a bedroom with hospital with troubled teenager Ana (Milena Smit).

Janis and Ana form an unlikely friendship and give birth at the same time, keeping in touch after Ana and her daughter Anita leave to live with her uptight actress mother Teresa. Upon seeing Janis’ granddaughter, Cecilia, Arturo’s face is ashen. Telling Janis that he doesn’t recognize Cecilia as his own daughter, he abruptly leaves, prompting Janis to take an online DNA test that hints at his (and our) worst suspicions.
A chance meeting with Ana several months is skillfully managed. Now living independently and working as a waitress, she moves in with Janis as a maid. Ana unwittingly succumbs to Janis’ request for a DNA sample, the test results of which confirm that, as reported, Anita and Cecilia were mistakenly swapped. Parallel mothers becomes a meditation on honesty, deceit and buried secrets, the pain on Cruz’s face as she later explains to Ana why she hid the too believable truth.

The relationship that develops between the two women is still believable, and there is a heartbreaking encounter between Janis and Teresa (a stunning performance by Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). Almodóvar aficionados will enjoy casting Rossy de Palma as Janis’ boss. And then, what plays out like an intimate drama unexpectedly widens its scope when Arturo reappears, attention turning to the painstaking exhumation of corpses thrown into a mass grave by Falangists in the late 1930s. , saliva swabs are the key to unlocking the truth, and the final minutes are deeply moving.

Parallel mothers is as visually lavish as you’d expect from Almodovar, the film’s interiors delightful. And have a pencil handy for a scene where Janis teaches Ana the art of making a perfect Spanish tortilla; I’m still amazed by Cruz’s ability to slice potatoes without cutting his fingertips. Alberto Iglesias’ sober score is one of his best, the string writing a nod to Bernard Herrmann. Bonus features include a trailer and brief production glimpses of the film, with the masks worn by Almodovar’s crew serving as a reminder that the film was shot during the pandemic.

@GrahamRickson

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