Mothers at the Movies

Pedro Almodavar’s “Parallel Mothers” 2021

Let’s talk about Mothers. They’re featured in a lot of films made last year. The timing makes sense as we’ve had time to reflect on our roles in society during quarantines. For many women, the pandemic means shouldering the responsibility of childcare, pivoting to online school for kids, while also trying to juggle work and meals and housework. Motherhood in the movies has reflected that less-than-rosy picture.

Ninjababy” is about a young woman who’s deciding what to do about her pregnancy. Her fetus appears as an animated character adding a whimsical element that invites the audience into her musings on motherhood. “The Lost Daughter” reveals the trauma experienced by a woman who’s struggled to combine motherhood and work. Seeing a frustrated young mother on vacation triggers memories of what happened when she choose to put her career first for awhile. In “The Worst Person in the World“, our young protagonist is floundering into adulthood. Her struggles are exacerbated by a pregnancy. All these movies present motherhood as a potential burden to face, rather than the joyful life-changing time often depicted in stories.

Pedro Almodavar, the internationally-known Spanish writer and director has built a career around the stories of colorful women. Penélope Cruz has played many complex characters in her career and many of those were in Almodóvar’s films. “Parallel Mothers” is their 8th film together. In three of those films, Cruz plays a pregnant woman. In “All About My Mother”, she’s a pregnant nun. Almodóvar films are well known for their strong female characters and he’s had a lot to say about Motherhood.

Pedro Almodovar, Penelope Cruz at the Parallel Mothers press conference in Venice. DANIELE VENTURELLI / GETTY

Cruz has given Almodóvar a lot of credit for her career. From her interview at the Venise Film Festival: “I feel like the luckiest girl in the world getting to work with him for so many years,” she said. “He has given me so many opportunities, so many characters that are so different from each other and so different (from) myself.”

Cruz admitted that it was Almodóvar who actually inspired her go to theater school as a teenager, getting a call from him two years later for a role that she ended up being too young for. “But he said he would write one for me.” Alex Ritman, Hollywood Reporter, Sept 21, 2021

“Parallel Mothers” tells the story of two pregnant women who met while giving birth to their first child. Both pregnancies were unexpected. One woman, Janis, played by Cruz, is excited to welcome her baby. She’s not married and plans to be a single mother. The young woman, Ana (a marvelous Milena Smit) who becomes her friend, is not happy about her pregnancy and is living at home with her actress mother (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). The story of these three mothers and how they embrace or reject motherhood unfolds against the backdrop of a larger societal reckoning.

“Parallel Mothers” is bookended with the recovery of bodies. Cruz’s character has arranged for the excavation of a secret grave. The film ends with mothers and grandmothers who’ve lost family during the Franco regime coming to the site to reclaim those bodies. There’s a lovely symmetry in the central story as well. The two mothers and the grandmother have now become part of an extended family with a new baby on the way.

From a story of two mothers embracing motherhood, the film expands to embrace the larger story of the town (and the country) acknowledging the tragic loss of family. As the town is healing, so are the mothers of the story. They are no longer parallel, living with their grief or questions. Now, they’re a family. Almodóvar has crafted another brilliant presentation of motherhood. One of love, longing and acceptance.

Drinks with Films rating:

“Parallel Mothers” 5 glasses of Spanish wine, sipped while smoking on a terrace

“The Worst Person in the World” 4 shots of tequila while flirting at a party

“The Lost Daughter” 4 glasses of Greek wine, while holding a stolen doll

“Ninjababy” 3 beers shared while having an animated conversation

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