Gay Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s 2019 movie “Pain and Glory” was a career high water mark, especially coming as it did just a few years after his first certified flop, “I’m So Excited!”

Making the most of that momentum and sticking with one of his favorite subjects – mothers – Almodóvar reunites with his great muse, Penelope Cruz, for “Parallel Mothers” (Sony Pictures Classics).

Janis (Cruz) is a single, Madrid-based photographer pushing 40 in the winter of 2016. A photo session with married forensic anthropologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde), leads to two important occurrences. The first is Arturo agrees to help Janis with an important project related to the Historical Memory Law and the exhumation of bodies (including her great-grandfather’s) buried in an unmarked mass grave outside her hometown.

The other is a passionate affair that results in Janis’ pregnancy. We learn about this via flashback, as well as Janis telling Arturo that she wants nothing from him in terms of raising the baby.

Shortly before Janis gives birth, we see her in her shared hospital room with her pregnant roommate, a minor named Ana (Milena Smit). The single mothers-to-be feel differently about their situations. Janis has no remorse and sees it as a happy accident. Ana, on the other hand, still lives with her actress mother Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) and has regrets. Immediately following the births of their daughters, the newborns have issues and are taken from their mothers for observation.

What follows are the kinds of dramatic twists and turns that could only come from the brilliant and unique creative mind of Pedro Almodóvar.

Janis is a devoted single mother to baby Cecilia. She hires an au-pair and returns to work as a photographer for her best friend Elena (the always reliable Rossy de Palma). Meanwhile, Ana, who loves her baby daughter Anita, is having a harder time, and not getting much help from her self-involved mother.

When Arturo sees Cecilia for the first time, he tells Janis that doesn’t believe he is the father and asks for a paternity test which Janis declines. Shortly thereafter, Elena makes a comment about Cecilia’s “ethnic” features.

Suddenly, Janis begins to have doubts about her baby and orders a maternity test kit. When her worst fears are confirmed, she spirals a bit, calling a lawyer, changing her mobile phone number, firing her au pair.

A chance reunion with Ana, now working as a waitress at a café near Janis’ apartment, only adds to the intrigue. A tragedy, an unexpected romantic entanglement, and a life-changing revelation all add up to a new Almodóvar classic. Additionally, knockout performances by Cruz and newcomer Smit, a subtle celebration of non-traditional families, and of course, the historical aspect of the story, and you can’t go wrong. In Spanish with English subtitles.

Rating: A-

Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.


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