Milena Smit, left, and Penélope Cruz and in “Parallel Mothers” (2021). IMDb photo

I’m definitely not one of the many fans of the internationally acclaimed Spanish writer director Pedro Almodovar. Remember here, that I’m a film “reviewer” not “critic,” even though I can get cranky.

I’ve only seen two of Almodovar’s films, because of his two favorite actors, Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas. I would watch laxative commercials that framed those two.

Still, as a favor to one of his local fans, I just watched a screening of Almodovar’s latest film, “Parallel Mothers,” that is being hailed by some as his best. I leave it to you fans to judge.

The story: Penelope Cruz, lovely and gifted as always, plays Janis, a renowned photographer for high-style Spanish magazines, shooting famous people and things, shoes, purses etc.

Janis is also a political activist and mingles with the very best people in Spain, where the ghosts of Franco and his fascist Spanish Civil War atrocities still smolder.

This piece of sordid Spanish history will float on the edges, and open up at the end, like a neglected blister on what is at its core, the story of women.


This is Almodovar’s cinematic “paella,” where you will be expected to sit up straight and pay attention, and keep a list of the ingredients that he keeps dropping in.

The star is Penelope as “Janis” (She’s named after Janis Joplin.) We meet the 39-year-old Janis in the maternity ward, where she is having a a baby she wasn’t expecting, from a one-night stand with married forensic archaeologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde) whose wife is dying from cancer. Can it get any worse? Yes.

Her roommate in the ward is Ana (a very good Milena Smit), a just-out-of-her-teens girl who is having a baby from an unknown father.

Janis, as the more mature of the two, comforts Ana, and in the course of the film’s twists and jerks, grows closer.

We watch Pedro’s “paella” as it cooks, simmers and boils on, acquiring more ingredients in plot twists and turns, and jumps back and forth in both of the two women’s families.

Almodovar clearly loves his women and offers three strong characters that pop in and out: Rossy de Palma (“Rainbow,” as Janis’s booking agent), Aitana Sanchez-Gijon (Janis’ mother) and Ana, (Milena Smit).

The final scenes shot on abandoned fields, where archaeologist Arturo and his crew dig up Janis’ great-great grandfather and his slain comrades is jarring and feels like something from another film. This reviewer prefers cold beer to sangria, and the Coen Brothers instead of Almodovar, so decide for yourself.

“Parallel Mothers” opens Jan. 28 at Waterville’s Railroad Square Cinema.

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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