In keeping with Pedro Almodovar’s more recent work, notably Julieta (2016) and Pain and Glory (2019), this is a film about the weight of the past and the need for forgiveness.
The story interweaves two threads: a drama of maternal confusion that could have been little better than soap opera in other hands, and an excavation – metaphorical and literal – of the continuing pain of the Spanish Civil War, though the latter is more of a frame to the meaty drama of female bonding and estrangement that drives the plot. The two threads are knitted together brilliantly by Penelope Cruz in her seventh screen collaboration with Almodovar.
Many of the director’s familiar tropes are in place, from the vibrantly coloured kitchen to the larger-than-life supporting characters, but as with the immediately preceding films this is a work of utmost seriousness. Some critics had previously questioned Almodovar’s avoidance of the Franco years (he once rather playfully claimed that ignoring them, through his focus on La Movida Madrileña and the New Spain in his early work, was a deliberately subversive act). To do so is to ignore his interest in festering family resentments, covered-up crimes and ghosts, not to mention his role as producer of the 2018 documentary, The Silence of Others, about the fight for justice by Franco’s victims.
In fact, Parallel Mothers shows Almodovar confronting the past with a mature humanity: we can redeem our errors and be forgiven, and we can best honour the dead by continuing to live.
“Most of all, it’s Cruz who sets the tone, with a performance that radiates warmth and is refreshingly forgiving of her character’s flaws. She has never been better.” Wendy Ide, Observer
“Almodóvar’s implication is plain. It is only by confronting the crimes of the past (whether recent or historic) that Spain’s faltering modern-day citizens can set things straight and move on.” Xan Brooks, Guardian