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History haunts Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers”

Updated: May 28, 2022


The two unwed mothers Ana (Milena Smit) and Janis (Penélope Cruz) who first met in the maternity ward, reconnect after the birth of their daughters. Cruz was nominated for an Academy Award.

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4K Ultra HD (digital) & Blu-ray; 2021; R for some sexuality; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: None available

PENÉLOPE CRUZ’S first appearance in a Pedro Almodóvar film was “Live Flesh,” 1997. In it was a scene in which Cruz’s character gives birth to a baby on screen. Twenty-four years later, in “Parallel Mothers,” Cruz does it again. Both times, the women she plays are unwed and independent, but that’s where the similarities end.

In his latest, which Almódovar also wrote and directed, Cruz plays Janis, a successful photographer, who meets the future father of her baby during a magazine shoot. He’s Arturo (Israel Elejalde), a forensic anthropologist. Arturo studies, and tries to help identify, the remains of victims of the regime of Francisco Franco, the dictator who terrorized Spain for almost 40 years. As it happens, Janis’ great-grandfather was one of the victims, arrested and “disappeared” in the early days of the Spanish Civil War. He was likely thrown into a mass grave in her hometown, so Janis asks Arturo to help investigate the remains in the excavated grave.

In the process of getting to know one another, Janis and Arturo wind up having a brief and passionate affair, which results in her pregnancy. Arturo is a married man and Janis is willing, and able, to raise the child without him.

(1&2) Janis photographs forensic anthropologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde), for an upcoming magazine story. (3) After the assignment Janis invites Arturo over for dinner.

In the maternity ward, Janis meets another mother-to-be: Ana (Milena Smit), a teenager, who also wants to keep her child. Both women have baby girls and, after agreeing to stay in touch, go their separate ways. Meanwhile, when Arturo sees his and Janis’ daughter, the baby’s facial features make him think she may not be his. This infuriates Janis, who knows Arturo had to be the father, and she sends him packing. A while later, Janis runs into Ana, now working as a waitress in a nearby café, and the two reconnect.

Some of what transpires after this chance meeting may seem clichéd, contrived or predictable, but stick with it. Many surprises await and Almodóvar fans will not be disappointed, especially by the powerful – sadly relevant – finale. All performances are excellent, with Cruz’s (she was nominated for an Oscar) especially good. The supporting cast includes Almodóvar regulars Rossy de Palma and Aitana Sànchez-Gijón. Here’s a fun fact: One of the other stars in “Live Flesh” was Javier Bardem. Thirteen years later, he and Cruz were married, and have since had two children.


This Sony Pictures Classic 4K and Blu-ray look and sound terrific. Captured on Sony’s X-OCN 16-bit 4K digital cameras (1:85:1 aspect ratio), and mastered in true 4K, the digital platforms get a higher resolution without the bonus HDR grading. From the opening wide-angle shot as Janis makes studio portraits of Arturo, you can see a major bump in clarity over the 1080p presentation. In both formats the colors are deeply saturated, skin tones consistently natural, and the depth and contrast just right.

A clear Spanish six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack is provided, with English subtitles. The sound effects are always true-to-life and well-balanced and the score, composed by Alberto Iglesias – also nominated for an Oscar – is perfectly suited to the drama.

— Peggy Earle

(1&2) Nine months later: Janis meets teenager Ana in the maternity ward. Ana’s mother Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) arrives at the hospital. (3-5) Two daughters are born - Cecilia and Anita.

(1&2) Baby Cecilia and Anita. (3) Arturo sees his daughter and her facial features make him think she may not be his. (4) Janis and Ana visit the grave of baby Anita. (5&6) Ana has moved in with Janis and a new revelation causes them to separate. (7) Arturo comforts Janis.

(1&2) Arturo brings Janis, her best friend Elena (Rossy de Palma) left, and Ana to the site where the foundation has started the excavation of the mass grave from the Spanish Civil War. (3) Surviving family members hold photographs of lost loved ones.




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