Spanish movies usually have elements of lust, passion and self-discovery intertwined with the storyline. Parallel Mothers is no exception. A story of two women who meet by chance at the hospital where they are ready to give birth, Janis (Penelope Cruz) a career focussed photographer in her late 30s and excited at the opportunity to have a child in her later stage of life while Ana (Milena Smit) is a 17-year-old student scared and traumatised at the prospect of raising a child on her own. Despite their differences both pregnancies were from unplanned circumstances which leads to each character keeping secrets and facing moral dilemmas.
The film starts with Janis at a photoshoot for Arturo (Israel Elejalde), a forensic anthropologist who she then asks to help her excavate the unmarked grave of her great grandfather. During the Spanish Civil War with Franco and the fascist Falange party, thousands of citizens ‘went missing’ but most relatives believed they were killed and buried in random fields. Many relatives have wanted to find the bodies with the hope of finally giving them the proper burials. While Arturo is helping Janis they embark on an affair where she then falls pregnant. Arturo is married and his wife has cancer and not in a position to be there for Janis who is quite happy to take on the responsibility as a single mother.
Ana was living with her father in Granada until she became pregnant when he sent her to live with her estranged mother. Ana’s mother Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) has been out of her life until now and struggles with being the supportive mother as well as trying to juggle her acting career which has suddenly started to take off in her later years of life.
The film explores each woman’s story and their struggles with trying to raise a child as a single mother. After the birth of their daughters they drift apart but eventually circumstances bring the two women together where they navigate the unlikely turn of events. There are many twists and turns leading to the struggle of life, loss and in the end redemption.
Cruz brings warmth and vulnerability to her character Janis and despite some of her choices the viewer can empathise with her moral dilemmas. While the film and storyline are interesting and manages to keep you in suspense its hard to reconcile the two storylines as one. The civil war atrocities and the two single mothers could have been explored separately with great results. Parallel Mothers is worth the watch if not just for the exceptional performance by Cruz.
Movie Review by Anastasia Lambis