Pedro Almodóvar probes the scars of Spain in Parallel Mothers


Venice has not given up its habit of heroin. Twelve months after having crowned Chloe Zhao queen of the lagoon for Frances McDormand with Frances McDormand Nomadic country and putting them both on the path to Oscar success, the festival kicked off its second edition of the Covid era with two films directed by great women of European cinema: Penélope Cruz and Isabelle Huppert.

The opening bet of the main competition came from Pedro Almodóvar, whose Parallel mothers is a drama directed by women that takes its story from the cradle to the grave. Blending the domestic and the historical, it combines the story of two women bound by childbirth with the unhealed scars of the civil war that divides Spain to this day.

Cruz plays Janis, a photographer determined to unearth the remains of the men from her village who were killed and buried by phalangists fighting for Franco in the 1930s. A photo shoot with a forensic archaeologist leads to a request for exhumation, but also to a sporadic love affair and an unexpected pregnancy.

It is in a shared hospital room that she meets Ana (Milena Smit), a teenage girl who is expecting an unwanted baby after being the victim of gang rape (echoes of the “La Manada” case which seized and horrified Spain a few years ago). For reasons too important to spoil, the association of the two women goes well beyond motherhood, their lives linked by love, lies and loss, sometimes united, sometimes trapped. That they are both single mothers is the least of the issues. “I am my family tradition,” notes Janis, who never knew her father and whose grandfather was among the desaparecidos (faded away).

Cruz carries the film in an impressive way. In their eighth collaboration, Almodóvar pushes the actress to new limits, placing her in almost every scene and fueling the film with her warmth, angst, and occasional spikes. She repays that confidence with a rock-solid performance that holds the film together even as it wanders into slightly soapy territory.

Almodóvar grew up surrounded by women in the war-scarred 1950s and it’s his tribute to their courage, but it’s far from an unblemished act of devotion. Janis herself is hardly infallible and Ana’s mother Teresa (Aitana Sánchez Gijón) is not Mother Teresa but a career-conscious actress who puts her work before her daughter and does it again with her little one. -girl.

Parallel mothers revisits the 2016 separation torture Juliet and the calculation of 2019 mortality Pain and glory, but it’s also Almodóvar’s most overtly political film to date. Janis’ shameful delay in facing painful truths mirrors that of Spain and the explicit reference to the Doña Rosita the old maid is sharp – Lorca being the most famous desaparecidos, the location of his remains is still unknown.

Almodóvar not only tackles thorny issues surrounding his country’s historical memory law head-on, he appoints and shames former right-wing prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who withdrew funding for the exhumation of mass graves . In Italy, the film is a luminous spark to set a festival in motion; in Spain it is sure to be much more inflammatory.

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Isabelle Huppert is still visible as mayor of a Parisian suburb in the political drama “Promises”

The first thing we hear in Promises is the clack-clack of heels, a thoughtful walk through the halls of power. Next we see the unmistakable mane of red hair. Isabelle Huppert, with her lofty air, effortlessly fills the mayor’s shoes in this political drama set in an unnamed town near Paris. Beside him is the esteemed Reda Kateb as Chief of Staff, a boy from the suburbs who managed to help him push through a blocked € 63million grant for social housing.

The story begins with hesitation, brimming with double-talked dialogues that gradually let slip a murky trail of slum owners and political intransigence that leads to the Elysee Palace. If that makes you think All the president’s men, you are not wrong. Although it’s set in the present, there’s something of that vintage about Thomas Kruithof’s decidedly old-fashioned film (which opened the second-level Horizons section).

With machinations unraveling, the denouement takes us back even further to Frank Capra and the generosity of ordinary people. In the grubby doors, they stand, brandishing their checkbooks (remember that?) Huppert, while still so watchable, never sweats.

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There’s a lot more to come at a festival that always promises sci-fi spectacular Dune and biopic on Princess Diana Spencer, among many others, but a good start.

As of September 11 labiennale.org

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