Venice Film Festival Day 1: Pedro Almodóvar opens the contest with ‘Parallel Mothers’ a forceful plea on motherhood and historical memory

Penelope Cruz and Milena Smit shine in ‘Parallel Mothers’, Almodóvar’s film that has served to open the 78th edition of the Venice Film Festival.

“Well, it’s time for you to worry about our history,” Janis (Penélope Cruz) angrily tells Ana (Milena Smit) at a key moment in Parallel Mothers; to which she replies “The only thing that matters to me is being with you” (I’m talking from memory, sorry if the dialogue is not as literal as it should be). And in that cross of reproaches, half whip of Pedro Almodovar to young people, urging her not to forget our dictatorial past, our murderous war, our ditches turned into mass graves full of corpses, not as anonymous as many would like; half open heart declaration of love on channel, seeking to focus on the concrete and immediate, clinging to pain so present it dulls any old wound, is where you can find the paternity / maternity test from Pedro Almodóvar’s last film that today inaugurated the 78th edition of the Venice International Film Festival – La Biennale Di Venezia or, more simply, the Venice festival.

And is that Parallel mothers are two movies in one with their consequent (and smart) internal rhymes. On the one hand, a story about suffering motherhood, of single mothers with unwanted or anticipated pregnant women, with an excited mother and a devoted mother, that they will see how their lives will intersect in the random drama of a life where death seems to envelop everything like a phantom fog. Secondly, Almodóvar plunges fully into the ditch of historical memory -the character of Cruz wants to unearth his great-grandfather shot by the Falangists- to remind us that in our towns, fields and gutters there are still bones buried victims of Franco’s disgrace. The dialogue that is established between the two stories is fluctuating and, as I say, places the wound, even death, in the foreground. The past and the future, our ancestors and our descendants, they end up defining what we are and, if we do nothing to apprehend it, what we will be, it is normal that the slap that Almodóvar gives to the lethargy of who is clothed with ultra nationalism arrives with force and fills with dignity a film that is more powerful in its message than in its development.

Almodóvar’s imperfect mothers -said the filmmaker that at this moment in his life, about to turn 72, he is more interested in maternal imperfection- are played by two practically perfect actresses. Of course Penelope Cruz, more and more Sophia Loren the more and more she works with Pedro, but especially Milena Smit -which has already amazed us by her role as a black widow in You will not kill (2020) by David Victori-, in her fragility and in her fieryness, she becomes one of the best Almodóvar characters in recent years. Parallel mothers would come to close a trilogy (Involuntary?) about motherhood together a Juliet (2016) and Pain and Glory (2019), although the figure of the mother has always been tremendously important in Almodóvar’s work. Film much more verbal than visual Parallel mothers would get closer to The flower of my secret (1995) than to major works by the filmmaker such as Hable con ella (2002) or La piel que habito (2011), since as the movie starring Marisa Paredes, this one has a very marked formal austerity, as well as a cathartic liberation in his visit to the rural town -How well Pedro films the towns, their people, their houses, their meals, etc-. I stay with that, and with the passionate love scenes, impressive, more than when the characters seek to explain their entire history to make themselves known. It is always a joy to see an Almodóvar movie.

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