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"Parallel Mothers": The Legacy of Franco's Era

The first time I saw Penélope Cruz's twisted and weeping face was in Pedro Almodóvar's 1997 film Live Flesh a brief opening. Cruz plays a sex worker who gives birth to a boy (the film's future protagonist) on a bus on Christmas night. In Almodóvar's 1999 masterpiece "All About My Mother," I was once again overwhelmed by her eccentric, alluring flesh. She has big, melancholy eyes, a long nose and protruding lips, and she looks a little awkward, even a little unexpectedly happy. Cruz can definitely be the star of the silent film era—she can move you, or break you, with just one look.

Such direct references to history and politics are relatively rare in Almodóvar's work. He grew up in the conservative countryside of mid-century Spain before becoming part of the Madrid movement (La Movida[1] La Movida Madrileña was a countercultural movement that took place mainly under dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 … Continue reading), an intercultural movement that took place in Madrid after the Franco regime ended in 1975. In a scene that mixes alternative drama, punk rock and porn, Almodovar started out on Super 8, then made feature films in the style of directors like John Waters. In the fast-paced, anti-realistic, anti-patriarchal and slightly playful early films, he searches for every possible taboo, appropriating and subverting the Spanish customs of the Franco era, and mixing it with classic melodrama and film noir. Combining routines.

Almodovar's new film Parallel Mothers (2021) is both a departure and a return. It ends with a quote from Uruguayan leftist Eduardo Galeano about the persistence of the past within us, and takes as a clear theme the remnants of the Spanish fascist period. The film begins with Janis, a middle-aged photographer played by Penelope Cruz, sent to visit Arturo (Israel Erejad), a handsome forensic archaeologist. Elejalde]). In the course of her work, she wanted his help in exhuming and identifying the remains of her murdered great-grandfather, one of the more than 100,000 missing Spaniards dumped in mass graves during the Civil War. Their detailed discussion of this history unreservedly occupies a large chunk of the film's opening, before Almodóvar sends Janice into more familiar territory: an affair with the married Arturo that impregnates her Now, at the clinic where she gave birth, she befriends another single expectant mother, an unhappy teenage girl named Ana (Milena Smit). Anne's own mother, preoccupied with the belated glory of her career as a stage actress, was mostly away from Anne's side.

Arturo goes on to help Janice unearth the remains of her great-grandfather, but the film spends most of the film on an Almodovar-esque version of the classic: the female characters work together to build another a family structure. While the effect of the movie obviously doesn't depend on these developments, I won't go into too many spoilers here. Suffice it to say, romantic disappointment ensues; secrecy, deception and false identities; intergenerational conflict and pain; tragic death makes emotional resolution even more impossible; semi-invisible sexual entanglements, There are also painful legacy issues that must be addressed.

I'll admit, the movie does lack the cliché of a normal feature film. The suspense that these kinds of plots usually rely on feels unnecessary here - you can guess what's going to happen by some revelation before they happen, and that doesn't spoil the story; in fact, it makes for tragic irony sharper. The film's most striking achievement is that its ingenious tropes reinforce and enrich each other's historic themes and greater intimacy. Thanks to Cruz, her performance is strong enough to support and embody both layers.