Janis (Penelope Cruz) is a commercial photographer. For an assignment, she meets with forensic anthropologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde), of whom she has a personal favour to ask: the excavation of a mass grave in her hometown. Despite a lack of public funding for this endeavour, he agrees. The two start seeing each other and Janis ends up pregnant. In the hospital, her path crosses that of Ana (Milena Smit). The two women share a room and bond, both giving birth to daughters. When Arturo questions his paternity of the baby, Janis starts to have doubts of her own.

On the one hand, Parallel Mothers is a story of kinship, of family transcending blood. And yet it is a very genealogical film. Lineage, and the heritage of our ancestors which we carry inside us, are vital themes explored in this vigorous melodrama. But Pedro Almodóvar does not stop at the personal – together with his protagonists, he peels back the layers of Spain’s painful civil war history. To this day, many families have not received closure as they were not able to bury their lost loved ones in family graves. Instead, their remains remain nameless in unmarked ditches, as is the case with Janis’ grandfather. It is the director’s most political work so far, but it still carries his signature love for the dramatic and the unconventional.

The use of vibrant colour, in both cinematography and set design, adds to the rich visuals, without the piece feeling overloaded. It is a pleasure to get to experience the interior design of our protagonist’s home, and then by comparison the houses of her grandmother and her fellow villagers.

As one of Almodóvar’s muses, Cruz has given many impressive performances, but she is downright scintillating in their latest collaboration. The casting of Smit as her co-star was a brave but rewarding choice, as the newcomer brings a wholly different energy to their shared scenes.

★★★★☆

Selina Sondermann

Parallel Mothers (Madres Paralelas) does not have a UK release date yet.

For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.

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