Pedro Almodovar’s latest drama film, “Parallel Mothers,” is an exploration of finding one’s own ancestry, especially in cultures with a tainted history of mass killings. Made in the director’s usual style of befitting drama and starring his usual muse, Penelope Cruz, “Parallel Mothers” presents two mothers who meet at the hospital ward during their pregnancy, and whose lives become intertwined from then on. At the back of the film’s conscience, however, remains Spain’s brutal history of mass executions and burials that occurred during the Spanish Civil War. With a gripping narrative, appropriate filmmaking, and brilliant performances, Almodovar’s “Parallel Mothers” is definitely a compelling watch.
‘Parallel Mothers’ Plot Summary
In the winter of 2016 in Madrid, professional photographer Janis Martinez (played by Penelope Cruz) makes acquaintance with Arturo, a celebrated forensic anthropologist, during a photoshoot. After the shoot, Janis takes a walk with Arturo, where she expresses her wish to excavate a rudimentary grave of ten bodies in her village, among which lies her grandfather’s remains, so that they can conduct a proper funeral for him. Arturo agrees to take up the project and learns more about it from Janis, who herself has researched the history of her village and the men who were killed during the Civil War. Soon, the two get sexually involved with each other and start a relationship.
Time passes, and now Janis is seen in the maternity ward of a hospital, her body on the brink of giving birth. It is here that Janis meets Ana Manso, a teenager who is also pregnant and is struggling hard to cope with it physically as well as mentally. Although both women have had unplanned pregnancies, forty-year-old Janis does not regret it and is very happy and eager to be a mother, while seventeen-year-old Ana regrets her situation and dreads becoming a mother.
The two become friends, and are also introduced to each other’s support after they have given birth—Janis’ best friend, Elena, a businesswoman, and Ana’s mother, Teresa, who is a passionate theater actor. It is revealed that Janis and Arturo have broken up, mostly on the wishes of Janis and particularly over the issue of the child—Arturo had wanted to drop the child, but Janis had wanted to be a mother. As the two women return home to start their individual lives as single mothers, Teresa gets the break she has been waiting for in her acting career, and she decides to embrace it, going on theatrical tours outside Madrid, leaving Ana alone with her daughter Anita.
On the other side, Arturo comes to visit Janis and their daughter Cecilia, but seems to act strangely after seeing her. When they meet again the next day, Arturo tells Janis that he does not believe Cecilia is his daughter, based on how the baby looks. Janis, shocked and hurt, tells him that she had been faithful to their relationship all the while, and the plausible reason for the baby’s ethnic look was the genes of Janis’ father, who was a Venezuelan man (as she had heard from her grandmother, for she had never seen him). She walks out of the hotel room, asking Arturo never to contact her again, and receives a call from Ana for the first time in a long time.
Ana and Anita seem to be doing fine, but doubt now starts to creep into Janis’ mind about Cecilia’s heritage. She decides to get a maternity test done, and when the results arrive, Janis finds out, in shattering disbelief, that she is not the biological mother of Cecilia.
The Fate Of The Two Mothers: Whose Child Is Cecilia After All?
Despite her dismay, Janis decides to keep Cecilia’s lineage a secret—she tells nobody, changes her phone number, and concentrates on her own. Some more time has passed. Janis is now back to working, as Cecilia is now a toddler, and one day during this time, she comes across Ana at a café near her house. Ana, who now looks very different, with short blonde hair, works as a waitress at the café and tells Janis that she had left home after her mother kept getting more and more engrossed in her acting career. That night, they meet at Janis’ house, where Ana reveals that Anita is now dead: she had suffered a crib death, where the baby had passed away in her sleep. When Janis sees a picture of baby Anita, she slowly starts to doubt that their babies might have been swapped in the hospital, and that it was actually her baby who had died. She does not express anything though, and the two women meet again after a few days, and Janis offers Ana a job at her house as a maid as well as a nanny to Cecilia, for a salary better than the café and also with a place to stay. Ana happily agrees and moves into the house, and Janis now runs another maternity test, this time with the samples of Ana and Cecilia. The result comes back positive, stating that Ana is indeed Cecilia’s mother, but Janis still keeps it a secret. Ana keeps living in her sorrow and seeks comfort in Janis, and the two develop a physical and emotional relationship. Some days later, Arturo comes to town and meets Janis to tell her that official permission has been granted to excavate the grave in her village. Ana starts behaving strangely with Janis after this meeting, possibly out of jealousy, and after the two have a tussle of words, Janis finds it difficult to hold on to the secret any longer. She tells Ana about the maternity test, and Ana is shocked and even angry beyond belief. Ana immediately packs her bags, and returns to her mother’s house with baby Cecilia.
Janis and Ana belong to quite different backgrounds—Janis is a professional woman who is independent from the beginning, while Ana belongs to a rich family, but she wants to break away from it. When Ana recounts the story of her life, it is revealed that she had been raped by multiple men, which had led to her pregnancy. Perhaps even more tragic and shocking (both for the audience as well as for Janis) was her father’s decision to hush up the matter, and rather than provide any support to his daughter, he had sent her away to Madrid. Understandably, Ana wants to be away from her father and from her native Granada. Janis’ family (and village), on the other hand, had a tradition of single mothers, perhaps mostly for political reasons, as the men in the village were killed off by Fascists during the Civil War. So to Janis, it is of much more significance and worth returning to her roots, to understand where she has come from, to unearth the pain and sufferings of her ancestors, for all of it has been taken away from her from a very young age.
‘Parallel Mothers’ Ending Explained
Despite the plot of an individual drama, “Parallel Mothers” comes back to the political history of the Spanish Civil War towards the end. Many months have passed, and Cecilia now lives with her mother, Ana, although they are still in contact with Janis. The time arrives for the excavation, and Janis and Arturo drive to her ancestral village and meet with the families who had lost men in the war. The two get back together again after Janis tells Arturo of her tragic discoveries about Cecilia. On the day that the skeletal remains would be displayed to the families, Ana comes to the village along with Cecilia, also accompanied by Elena. It is also revealed that Janis is now pregnant once again with Arturo’s child. The families finally arrive at the grave site and pay their respects to the skeletons that lie in a narrow trench. With a sad and perturbed face, Cecilia looks down at the trench, and then the camera shows all the people there, including Arturo and Elena, lying in the trench over each other, as if dead. The scene fades to black, and the film ends with a quote from renowned novelist Eduardo Galeano.
The very last scene is a direct reminder of the fact that innumerable people in Spain (and many other parts of the world) are still in the position of the people that have been shown in the film—whose ancestors were mercilessly killed off by a political regime and buried haphazardly without any respect or reverence. Seeing the very same people seen alive a second ago, now lying dead in the trench, is perhaps a point-out to their own personal ancestral history. With “Parallel Mothers,” Almodóvar tries to unearth this very history, and with Galeano’s quote (who himself is renowned for his Leftist ideology), perhaps also makes it his intention to point out the responsible Fascists in history.
Cinematically speaking, “Parallel Mothers” is replete with the signature melodrama of Almodóvar’s filmmaking style—from coincidental twists in the plot to the theatrical slow fade to black as transitions between scenes akin to the dimming of light on stage. The last scene also carries the sense of impossible melodrama, for the people seen lying in the trench, presumably dead, are still breathing normally. With Cruz’s excellent and free-flowing acting performance and the strong reminder that the film builds up to, “Parallel Mothers” is an intriguing watch despite its somewhat predictable storyline.
“Parallel Mothers” is a 2021 Drama film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar.