Pedro Almodovar’s Parallax Mothers is enshrined in melodrama. It shares at least one of its major twists with a plotline from Footballer’s Wives. This gives an idea of the soapy narratives you can expect from the Spanish director.
Even though it has more twists than the EastEnders Christmas Special – which can sometimes require suspension of belief – this is Almodovar’s most politically significant feature by a mile. However, there is a deeper message hidden beneath. He traces the lives of two mothers who are inseparable and have their babies on the same day. However, there are darker, more disturbing truths about the loss that has overshadowed Spain’s Civil War. Eduardo Galeano (Uruguayan journalist) closes the film by saying, “No matter what you do, human history refuses not to be silenced.”
These human stories begin with Janis, played by Almodovar’s frequent collaborator Penelope Cruz. Her fiery and generous performance ranks among her finest. Janis, like many Spanish families, has suffered from the destruction of Fascism. Her great-grandfather is still buried in a mass grave outside her village. One day, while working as a photographer, Janis begins an affair. Arturo (Israel Elejalde), a renowned forensic archaeologist, asks her to help them reclaim their ancestor. Janis is surprised and delighted when Janis becomes pregnant. She has a steady career, a lovely flat in a magazine and the support of Elena, her best friend (also a regular face in Almodovar films, Rossy De Palma). She decides to be a single mom, just like her family.
Ana (Milena) Smit, a teenager from Madrid, is experiencing a completely different story. She was raped by a group of men and is now pregnant. Despite her family being wealthy, she receives very little financial or emotional support. Ana’s father is absent in Granada. Her mother, Teresa (you might suspect that her name is a bit tongue-in-cheek), seems more concerned with the unexpected challenges this child will bring to her questionable acting career. Aitana Sanchez Gijon’s chain-smoking Teresa is theatrical and Gaudy. She almost feels like a classic Almodovar heroine if she weren’t so self-absorbed. She proudly states that she is “apolitical”, which is a telling sign. Ana and Janis cannot afford to be so ambivalent about politics.
As the story unfolds, Janis’ and Ana’s lives collide in surprising, bizarre and touching ways. And as with many Almodovar films, especially 1999’s All about My Mother, the notion of a chosen family is central to the women as they face motherhood together. Arturo fulfills his promise towards the end. They stand side by side surrounded in generations of women from the same village where Janis’ great grandfather was murdered. Below, you can see the brutality of Spain’s recent history. Pedro Almodovar is the king of campy, kitschy cinema. Although understated isn’t always a term you would associate with him, motherhood becomes something far more important in his compassionate hands. Each generation carries the burdens of the past forward. Almodovar suggests that there is hope for tomorrow by confronting them.