Synopsis: Two single mothers bond and keep secrets from each other. (Streaming on Amazon Prime as of 3/24/22)
Penelope Cruz is Janis, a sometimes wise and sometimes foolish woman who decides to go forward with an unplanned pregnancy and have a baby. Things are complicated with her occasional lover, so the professional photographer plans on single motherhood.
Watching Parallel Mothers got me thinking about Penelope and her IRL partner, Javier Bardem who have two children together. I kept hoping that he would show up in the background, sipping a cup of coffee on the sofa while Penelope’s Janis has an intense phone convo in the foreground or maybe she could be shooting a magazine cover of him, and we wouldn’t know whether he was supposed to be a different timeline Javier Bardem-who-doesn’t-know-Penelope or a made-up famous actor. Alas, Javier is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he was off filming that I Love Lucy movie with Nicole Kidman or taking care of their children at home. Back to the movie…
We meet Janis when she is photographing Arturo (Israel Elejalde), a forensic archaeologist. The studio photos show him to be a studious, yet sexy man. They talk after the shoot and she makes a request of him: would the foundation that he belongs to consider excavating a mass grave from the Spanish Civil War (1936-39)? Her great grandfather was a victim of Franco. I know– you are probably picturing James Franco in full-on surly pout. But, no, I am referring to General Francisco Franco, a leader of a military junta against the elected Spanish government. At least 500,000 lives were lost and hundreds of thousands fled to France.
Picasso’s Guernica is a masterful surrealist painting of one of the many atrocities: the northern town of Guernica was bombed at Franco’s request by German and Italian air forces. If you are interested, you can watch Genius: Picasso in which Antonio Banderas, as the artist, has sex with many women and splashes paint around on canvas.
The plot point of the ghosts of the civil war are put on the back burner while we follow Janis into a maternity ward the following year, where she labors in the company of another pregnant woman, Ana (Milena Smit). Neither woman has a partner, but while Janis welcomes the birth of her child, the teenaged Ana still seems to be processing that she is pregnant. Wise Janis offers reassuring words. After a while, both are delivering their daughters and I have to say that with all of the screaming and sweaty exhaustion, they really make a case for just being knocked out with drugs for the whole thing.
Wise and experienced Janis has done a good job planning her maternity leave and lining up an au pair. Meanwhile, young Ana was counting on her mom to help her. But mom is an actor and she says she really can’t pass up a great role in a play that will go on tour. Ana asks who will take care of the baby when she goes back to school. The mom looks at her daughter sympathetically and then rushes off to pack her suitcase.
Meanwhile, Janis realizes she has been foolish. She expected the American student she hired as an au pair to actually be interested in caring for the baby. Instead she occupies herself flipping through course catalogs, music funneled into her headphoned ears; all the better to ignore baby in her crib. Janis has dipped back into work, taking less artistic, but more readily available commercial work photographing stiletto shoes and handbags. What to do about the au pair?
Janis and Ana get in touch and Janis invites her to visit. Janis gets the idea that maternal Ana could watch her baby when she needs to work. Ana agrees. Poor Ana has suffered from benign maternal neglect and Janis takes on an older sister role, giving the teen advice and listening to her laments. Listening to music one night, Janis tells Ana that she was named after Janis Joplin. Ana asks who that is. In twenty years, some teen will ask Ana who Dua Lipa is and then Ana will feel old.
Anyway, before long Janis and Ana are staying up late drinking wine and trading confidences. It is one thing for Zendaya’s character in Euphoria to make poor choices, but forty-something Janis should know better. Foolish Janis; because Janis is keeping a secreto. And the longer she is keeping company with Ana, the more she is tempted to tell her something about her past.
And what of Spain’s past? Janis tells Ana that she should know what their country is. But Ana is interested in the present and her own past –which she wants to keep buried.
With Parallel Mothers, writer-director Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz have collaborated on their seventh film. Sr. Almodovar exhumes history, insisting that no matter how many years have past, we cannot remain silent on the suffering of our forebears.
Ms. Cruz’ Janis burns with ardor for her child and her own suppressed truth. We see her abide by the foolishness and wisdom within her.
I was so glad that Parallel Mothers didn’t have any bizarro Almodovar conceits. The movie is all heart. Let’s hope that the director and Penelope Cruz make another movie together. And this time Javier Bardem can sign on — maybe as Pablo Picasso. And Penelope could be 15th Century Queen Isabella I. In the same movie. Okay… Pedro can go a little bizarre in his next flick.
P.S. This movie got me wondering about women’s healthcare in Spain. Here’s what I learned… Spain has a universal healthcare service. However, some people opt for supplemental insurance because certain benefits are not covered, like some gynecological services. In any case, it seems that most of the cost of child delivery is covered.
Also, abortion has been legal in Spain since 1985. It is allowed up until 14 weeks of pregnancy (with a 3 day waiting period) or if the mother’s life is in danger. Since 2010, abortion has been allowed until the 22nd week of pregnancy for fetal deformities incompatible with life or incurable diseases. Parental consent is required for pregnant girls less than 18 years of age seeking an abortion.
Interestingly, in Spain it is apparently not uncommon for doctors to claim “conscientious objection” in declining to perform abortions. It would stand to reason that obstetrics and gynecology residency programs are limited in the training that they provide in surgical pregnancy termination procedures which would impact not just “elective abortions,” but also routine dilation & curettage that prevents a woman from hemorrhaging out an impending miscarriage or emergency evacuation of the uterus in the case of the pregnancy being life threatening to the woman. Phew! Complicated issues, indeed.
P.P.S. In 2000, the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory was founded in Spain. It has recorded testimony on killings by Franco’s Nationalist forces. Mass graves are also identified and excavated. Remains are identified using forensic methods and DNA tests.
Franco died in 1975 and the transition to democracy began. Under the auspices of moving on, open discussion of the civil war became taboo. Finally-finally! there will a national museum opening in 2025 in Teruel, Spain that chronicles the war’s history.