Parallel Mothers: What you heard at the maternity hospital

A- drama
Written & directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Some movies are easy to review, but not this one. If I’m not careful, I can ruin the movie for you – and not just in the last act. Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film, Parallel Mothers, contains some important surprises over its two-hour runtime, and each new revelation changes the story considerably. Almodóvar tells this story much getter than I can.

I’ll try to discuss Parallel Mothers without saying too much.

Two pregnant, unmarried women meet in the maternity ward. Both pregnancies were accidents. Janis (Penélope Cruz) is comfortable and heading into middle age. She has a good job as a photographer. She’s poised and in control. And not surprisingly, she’s happy about the major change coming into her life.

Ana (Milena Smit) is a boyish girl, apparently right out of high school. She’s frightened. That shouldn’t be surprised. She had a difficult childhood. Her mother is an actress fighting her way to get better parts while her daughter is about to be a mother. Ana’s father, who never appears in the film, doesn’t seem to care at all.

After the births, Janis hires Ana to be a live-in nanny. Soon, they become close friends, and then lovers. But Janis is keeping some very difficult information from Ana – something that the younger woman really needs to know. The romantic relationship makes Janis’ deceits worse.

I never thought of Almodóvar as a political filmmaker, but Parallel Mothers dives into Spain’s dark fascist era under Franco. Very early in the movie, Janis asks a forensic archeologist to help her family find peace. During the Spanish Civil War and in the decades after that, Franco’s army massacred many and buried them in mass graves. Janis thinks her great-grandfather was one of the victims, and wants his body identified.

I should mention that the forensic archeologist is a very good-looking gent played by Israel Elejalde. How else did you expect Janis got pregnant?

Janis seems to be caught, like all of us, between the past and the future. It’s just more intense for her. As a new mother, she’s looking into the future. But with the search for her great-grandfather’s body, her past has been given to her, as well.

Parallel Mothers opens in the Bay Area Friday, January 7, at the Embarcadero Center and the New Mission. A week later, it will be screening at the Shattuck, AMC Saratoga 14, and the Rafael.