‘PARALLEL Mothers’ was not chosen by Spain to be its entry in the best international feature Oscar. It chose “El Buen Patron (The Good Boss)” as its official entry, but it didn’t get nominated at all. In contrast, “Parallel Mothers”, got two Oscar nomination, with its lead star, Penelope Cruz, got nominated for best actress. She has won the Oscar before as best supporting actress for Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” in 2008.
“Parallel Mothers” is from Spain’s renowned filmmaker, Pedro Aldomovar. This is his 22nd film and the 7th with Penelope. Two of his films have won Oscars: “All About My Mother” (1999) for best foreign language film and “Talk to Her” (2002) for best original screenplay.
In “Parallel Mothers”, Penelope plays a photographer, Janis, who meets a forensic arachaeologist, Arturo (Israel Elijalde), in a photo shoot. She asks for his help to excavate a mass grave in her home town, where her great grandfather and other people were executed and buried during the Spanish Civil War.
They end up in bed, even if Arturo has a wife who has cancer, and in the next scene, Janis is already about to give birth in a hospital. She is sharing a room with Ana (Mliena Smit), an 18-year old single mom who, like her, is giving birth for the first time.
After they’ve given birth, their babies are both held for further examination. Janis and Ana become friends and exchange their numbers. After they got their babies, they go home but keep in touch. Arturo visits Janis to see their baby but says he has a strong feeling the baby is not his.
This plants a seed of doubt in Janis’ mind as the baby really does not look like any of them. She eventually gets a maternity test and it confirms that she’s not the baby’s real mother, but she decides to just keep it a secret.
Later on, she meets Ana who tells her that her own baby died of crib death. Janis asks Ana to work with her at home as her baby’s babysitter. She gets saliva samples from both Ana and the baby and the subsequent maternity test confirms that Ana is the biological mother and their babies have been exchanged in the hospital.
Janis learns more about Ana’s own story. Her parents separated when she was young and she grew up with her dad. Three of her male classmates in college tricked her into having sex with them and when she got pregnant, she’s not even sure which of the three is the father. Janis and Ana become so close they get into a lesbian relationship, but Janis cannot fully commit into it and eventually tells Ana the truth that she is really the mother of their baby girl.
The film’s main story is about Janis and Ana, but there are other strands that call our attention. First is the estranged relationship of Ana with her own mother, Teresa (Aitana Sanchez Gijon), a stage actress who admits she’s been a negligent mother to Ana. Then there’s the subplot about Janis’ concern with the exhumation of her great grandpa’s mass grave with which the movie actually ends and which we feel somehow derails it.
Maybe, if you’re Spanish, you’d be able to relate with it as it touches on the scars of a savage civil war in Spain’s recent history, but it doesn’t quite fit and is not seamlessly woven into the main buddy film about the relationship of two parallel moms. It looks like it’s better developed as another film.
The acting is uniformly fine, with Penelope Cruz giving a compelling portrayal of the lead character. She combines her sheer high wattage glamor with her acting skills to hold the film together in playing a woman burdened with her own personal issues but also bent on fulfilling a historical obligation to the past.