Let’s talk about mothers. They appear in many films made in the 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 taking on the responsibility of childcare and turning to online schooling for children, while trying to juggle work, meals and household chores. Motherhood in movies has reflected this less than rosy image.
“Ninjababy” is about a young woman deciding what to do with her pregnancy. Her fetus appears as an animated character adding a whimsical element that invites the audience into her thoughts on motherhood. “The Lost Daughter” reveals the trauma experienced by a woman who struggles to reconcile motherhood and work. Seeing a frustrated young mother brings back memories of what happened when she chose to put her career first for a while. In “The Worst Person in the World”, our young protagonist tries to find her place in the world and her difficulties are exacerbated by a pregnancy. All of these movies present motherhood as a potential burden to face, rather than the joyous, life-changing time often depicted in the stories.
Acclaimed Spanish writer and director Pedro Almodóvar has built a career around the stories of colorful female characters. Penélope Cruz has played many complex characters in her career and many of them were in Almodóvar’s films. “Parallel Mothers” is their eighth film together. In three of these films, Cruz plays a pregnant woman. In “All About My Mother”, she is a pregnant nun. Almodóvar presented complex mother stories throughout her career.
Cruz gave Almodóvar a lot of credit for his career. From her interview at the Venice Film Festival: “I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to work with him for so many years,” she said. “He gave me so many opportunities, so many characters so different from each other and so different from myself.”
Cruz admitted that it was Almodóvar who actually inspired her to go to drama school as a teenager, receiving a call from him two years later for a role she was ultimately too young for. “But he said he would write one for me,” she said in an article for The Hollywood Reporter.
“Parallel Mothers” tells the story of two pregnant women who met while giving birth to their first child. Both pregnancies were unexpected. A woman, Janis, played by Cruz, is delighted to welcome her baby. She is unmarried and plans to be a single mother. The young woman, Ana (a wonderful Milena Smit) who becomes her friend, is not happy with her pregnancy and lives at home with her actress mother (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). The story of these three mothers and how they embrace or reject motherhood is set against the backdrop of a larger societal awareness.
“Parallel Mothers” is related to the recovery of bodies. Cruz’s character organized the excavation of a secret tomb. The film ends with mothers and grandmothers who lost their families during the Franco regime who come to the site to recover these bodies. There is also a nice symmetry in the central story. The two mothers and grandmother are now 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 country, acknowledging the tragic loss of family. The mothers are no longer parallel, living with their grief or their questions. Now they are a family. Almodóvar has crafted another brilliant presentation of motherhood. That of love, desire and acceptance.
Drinks With Films ratings:
“Parallel mothers:” 5 glasses of Spanish wine, sipped while smoking anxiously 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 shared beers while having a lively conversation