There are few directors in the world today who have actively made consistently enjoyable cinema as much as Pedro Almodovar. In fact since the beginning of the century, not even Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Bong-Joon ho or Paolo Sorrentino have made good with every film they have directed, in contrast with the 72-year old veteran Spaniard.
His latest film, Parallel Mothers, not only keeps up his streak but plays as his best film since The Skin I Live In as well as one of the stronger collaborations with his regular actress Penelope Cruz.
Janis (Cruz) is a photographer who in working on arranging an personal excavation project linked to the Spanish Civil War becomes acquainted with Arturo. Though married to a seriously ill woman, he and Janis engage in an affair which when ended is followed by the news that she is pregnant with his child. Insistent on keeping it due to the uncertainty of how much time she has left to become a mother, she chooses to raise the child alone.
In the hospital where Janis is about to give birth, she encounters Ana, a teenager who is in labour at the same time. Her own lifestyle appears dysfunctional with her theatre actress mother forced to go on tour, a father who is estranged and the circumstances revolving the pregnancy implied to be rather shocking.
Eventually with the two settling into motherhood, circumstances and suspicions arise leading up to Janis and Ana becoming acquainted further and the power of motherhood setting them up for discoveries with life-altering consequences.
Almodovar manages to surpass his Oscar-nominated previous work Pain and Glory with a feature that is littered with the ingredients of his strongest works that have helped make his career so prestigious.
In this tale of two new mothers of different generations, it combines the raw emotion of All About My Mother, the twistiness of The Skin I Live In, the character interweaving of Talk to Her and the sexiness of Broken Embraces to provide viewers with the best storytelling he has made in ten years.
Central to the piece is the performances of Cruz and Milena Amit whose characters’ respective reasons for falling pregnant present a versatile method within the storytelling instead of just plucking out basic conventions.
Amit, with her changing appearance, shows signs of a future Spanish superstar in the making while Cruz arguably delivers her best performance to date under Almodovar’s direction, with one particular scene highlighting the ability for director and actor to produce something genuinely moving.
Unusually it marked only the third time since 1999 that a feature by the director didn’t premiere at Cannes, instead opening at the Venice Film Festival, as the veteran Spaniard entered his fifth decade in moviemaking.
And yet it is also a clear symbol that, far from churning out underwhelming works in an attempt to relive former glory as other directors have, he is still capable of delivering work that stand alongside his best work. He may be no spring chicken but Parallel Mothers proves he still has it and is capable of building upon it.
If one is already a fan of his, this will be yet another treat and if anyone really is missing out by not yet discovering his work, this would be a good place to begin.