Review: ‘Parallel Mothers’ reveals pain and joy

When does a mother begin to love her child? How do these feelings intensify over time? What lessons do they teach? And what can ever change what a mother feels?

Pedro Almodóvar, always a sensitive film director, dares to explore fundamentals of motherhood in his heartbreaking drama, “Parallel Mothers.” Featuring another explosive, award-worthy performance from Penélope Cruz, the film sizzles on screen as two women from different worlds explore what they share, from what it means to give birth, share the joys of infancy, the heartbreaks of loss and the guidance this experience can offer for a lifetime.

We first meet these women in the hospital when they happen to be assigned to the same double room they share until each gives birth. At first, their light exchanges are filled with hope. Janis, a successful photographer, will be a mature single mother raising her baby while Ana, a teenager, also plans to take care of her baby on her own. Both reveal their hopes for the experience, as well as fears, respecting this milestone for its opportunity to shape new lives.

But nothing in the film follows predictable paths. As the realities of life changes, so does the nature of their interactions. In a narrative filled with twists, turns and surprises, Almodóvar dares to confront issues of selfishness, regret, bitterness, even resentment, as Janis and Ana navigate journeys their lives may not have prepared them to follow. And, beyond their immediate priorities, and the questions they have about priorities, they find themselves searching through the past for clues for what family should mean to each other.

Almodóvar juggles these story points with the confidence of a filmmaker who knows, as long as he keeps the characters center screen, he can take the narrative in any direction. No matter where Janis may wander in her thinking, the filmmaker’s clear view of what she means to the story ensures every plot point remains relevant. Through her eyes, Almodóvar teaches what family can mean as he challenges us to consider how we ensure that our extended relations understand the legacies from which we have all emerged.

Of course, any chance to see Cruz work with Almodóvar is movie joy. These artists simply know how to bring out the best in each other. As a director, Almodóvar gives Cruz the freedom to bring Janis to life without overwhelming the character with too much to think or do; as an actress, Cruz captures the meaning of every phrase, the nuance in each gesture, to fully realize the depths of love and anxiety someone can experience. Because of Almodóvar and Cruz, we believe every moment that Janis may experience, from the joys of love to the tragedy of loss. It’s a breathtaking performance.

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Film Summary: Parallel Mothers

Content: High. Pedro Almodóvar delivers a fascinating study of two women dealing with the hopes, disappointments and realities of motherhood.
Entertainment: High. Led by the wondrous Penélope Cruz, in an Oscar-worthy performance, the film makes us want to see more.
Message: High. As the film navigates experiences that can be painful, as well as uplifting, it helps us see why confronting truth is so essential.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to examine how people navigate the depths of emotional reaction can be meaningful at the movies.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older children, talk about what it takes to revisit and reconsider what family can mean.

Now and then, movies reconfirm how a journey inside the soul can be as thrilling as any visual experience. “Parallel Mothers” may not offer any action sequences, but it moves at a lightning pace through several emotional ups and downs.

“Parallel Mothers” – in Spanish with English subtitles – runs 2 hours and 3 minute and is Rated R for “some sexuality.” The film is in theaters.