Clues as to what was to be Parallel mothers they were already there, in front of our eyes, on the film’s posters. We did not know how to see it, but it is enough to compare and look at the billboard of any cinema to see the respect that Almodóvar has always professed for the art of design and posters.
The poster for Almodóvar’s latest film rekindles the #FreeTheNipple movement: “It is very sad that a nursing nipple is problematic today”
After the controversy of the first poster, removed from several Instagram posts, Javier Jaén’s design showed us a black and white breast with a nursing nipple in the shape of an eye. A look that cried. Why? Who are the mothers in this movie crying over? The second poster opened new questions: Penelope Cruz appeared embracing Milena Smit, but her gesture became a map of black and white lines that did not seem to touch or merge completely. A hug without reconciliation, without grays or halftones. A kind of trenches, dug between them, that separated them from the inside.
Pedro Almodóvar has just inaugurated the 78th edition of the Venice International Festival with Parallel mothers. And she doesn’t do it like other filmmakers showing her work in promotional mode without getting wet: she has a habit of entering the competition and hers will be one of the films that aspire to the Golden Lion. As the posters predicted, this is a drama about wounded maternity wards. Three radically different female characters who share a particular way of understanding past and present, trauma and their scars. A skillfully woven story about the emotional trenches of a country that wants to mourn its dead, and tries to build a future of reconciliation, impossible without truth, memory and reparation.
One grave, three women and too much past buried
Parallel mothers follows the lives of three women who understand and exercise motherhood in different ways. Janis (Penélope Cruz) is a freelance photographer and has become pregnant, to the surprise of the biological father who rejects the idea of being pregnant because he is in the process of separating from his current partner. Before the man’s refusal, Janis decides to be a single mother.
In the hospital he meets Ana (Milena Smit), also about to be a single mother, since the child’s father is unknown. Both will weave an automatic complicity that will lead them to help each other during pregnancy and even to give birth on the same day. Eventually Janis will meet Ana’s mother, Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), a woman who in her fifties begins to be successful as a theater actress and whose booming career is not willing to sacrifice to help her daughter.
Behind this triangle of affective relationships, another story constantly beats: that of a hidden mass grave in the town of Janis, in which supposedly are the remains of her grandfather, shot by the coup party.
The absence of men, practically ghosts in the narrative if we except the role of Israel Elejalde, returns us to the fundamentally feminine universe of much of the director’s filmography, but very much in tune with the stylization and expressive maturity of Juliet, which competed at the Cannes festival in 2016. A film with which she shares many points in common. In addition to certain desires of staging and editing, Parallel mothers she constantly asks herself about motherhood, the traditional family model, the moral weight of consanguinity and, above all, the individual past as the construction of a present self that needs to heal wounds.
For much of the footage, Parallel mothers embraces the language of melodrama to shape a complex story of affections and defects around Janis, Ana and Teresa. A kind of skein that when unraveled can be irregular –at times languid and at times passionate–, but it is always stimulating due to its narrative elegance and its underlying discourse.
The more or less similar trajectories of the lives of Janis and Ana generate a level of very intimate proximity between the two that only collides head-on on one issue: the past. While Janis struggles to heal a wound that is part of her family history – getting her grandfather buried with dignity – Ana doesn’t want to talk about her own, clouded by trauma. Janis goes back to the past to understand herself, Ana maintains that nothing good can come from looking back. And at this crossroads, Almodóvar takes the lead in turning this film into one of the most overtly political of his career.
The right to remember, the right to heal
“There is no silent history. No matter how much they burn it, no matter how much they break it, no matter how much they lie to it, human history refuses to shut up,” wrote Eduardo Galeano. A quote from the book Muddled, School world upside down that Almodóvar includes in Parallel mothers as a warning. This film assumes a very clear position regarding the historical memory of our country.
The finding, what is really brave in her case, is not to make a political position explicit directly in her cinema, but to link the criticism with the lives and intimacy of three very different women. It is known that the personal is always political, but the elegance and restraint with which both concepts are found here makes Parallel mothers shine even in your least inspired moments.
The traumas of the protagonists of this film begin to heal by sharing them, by discovering them to the world in all its rawness and truth. Wounds that cannot be seen do not heal as quickly as those that do, but in this film, the pretended forgetfulness, the putting earth on the pain, is not a solution. Galeano’s quote, in fact, continues like this: “The right to remember is not among the human rights enshrined by the United Nations, but today it is more than ever necessary to vindicate it and put it into practice: not to repeat the past, but to avoid let it be repeated, not so that we living are ventriloquists of the dead, but so that we are capable of speaking with voices not condemned to the perpetual echo of stupidity and misfortune. ”
In an apparently trivial scene, the characters of Penélope Cruz and Rossy de Palma arrive in their hometown. Penelope asks her friend if she’s okay, because she looks downcast, quiet and thoughtful. Rossy de Palma nods and affirms: “It’s just that I really want to cry.” One has the feeling, more after a pandemic like the one we have experienced, that that is what it is all about: crying for the dead. To let go of the tears seized for decades. And with this movie, we are hopeful that we can.