- Posted by Julia Burns
- On March 19, 2022
- Almodóvar, Film, Parallel Mothers
by Laura Obiols
Our Arts Editor talks motherhood, life, history, movies and Oscar nominations with three of the most iconic Spanish figures in the film industry: Penélope Cruz (47), Javier Bardem (53) and Pedro Almodóvar (72), at the 36th Goya’s awards celebrated this February in Valencia.
Bardem (‘Best Actor’ nomination for ‘Being the Ricardos’) and Cruz (‘Best Actress’ nomination for Almodóvar’s ‘Parallel Mothers’) will be back in LA for the Oscar ceremony this year (the 94th Academy Awards will take place on the 27th March at the Dolby Theatre). They became the 6th married couple to receive nominations together in the same Oscar edition; if they win, it would be the first time this happens in Hollywood in 40 years.
“We were on the sofa, cuddled together waiting to see the results”, Bardem says. “When they announced my nomination first, I was very excited but it wasn’t a true celebration until we heard she was also nominated. We would not be able to truly celebrate together if one of us was disappointed. As soon as her nomination came through, we really felt the emotion of what this all means. This really hit us deep in our hearts to be able to share something so beautiful and so special together”, he adds.
“I went from the sofa to the floor and started crying, I could not stop crying for half an hour. This is my best nomination, with my husband and with Almodóvar”, Cruz explains. “If we were normal people, we would do a party. But we’re actually quite boring. [Bardem laughs]”.
30 years of love and two kids together, Leo (10) and Luna (8). They also took off internationally at the same time. “We met when I was 17 and he was 21, and we were doing our first movie together. So, you know, it’s, like, 30 years ago that we know each other”, Cruz smiles and nods with her eyes widely open. “We love working together. I think he’s such an incredible actor. I love working with him. And of course, it makes all the logistic also easier. But we don’t want to force it”, Cruz shares.
“I think both did a fantastic job,” Bardem says. “But Penelope did something extraordinary because she’s nominated for the second time for a role in Spanish—that’s really historic. Of course, I am rooting for her.”, Bardem looks at Cruz with tenderness and she smiles back.
Almodóvar has always been their net and support, “We share much more than a life together. I cannot explain what this means to me”, Almodóvar explains..
Cruz tells me: “He (Almodóvar) has given me so many opportunities, so many characters that are so different from each other and so different from myself. It’s a pleasure working together because we play hard but we have a great communication. It’s a smooth ride even when we suffer…In the early days, I was kind of stalking him (Almodóvar) for a while and I sent him two movies. One day, I was drying my hair at home, and somebody told me, ‘Almodóvar is on the phone.’ And, of course, I thought it was a joke because it was such a particularly specific dream that I’ve had for so many years. And they said, no, he’s waiting on the phone, it’s true. So I picked up the phone. And we connected in an incredible way”. Almodóvar adds, “It´s all easy with Penelope, she trusts me so deeply; with ‘Madres paralelas’ I return to the female universe, to motherhood, to the family. We had many conversations around it. I speak of the importance of ancestors and descendants. The inevitable presence of memory. There are many mothers in my filmography, the ones that are part of this story are very different.”
Almodóvar was born in a really bad time for Spain but a great time for film. La Movida Madrileña was like the liberation after the dictatorship in Spain and coincided with the economic growth in Spain (a countercultural movement that took place mainly in Madrid during the Spanish transition to democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975). Almodóvar became a reference film director back then.
After Franco’s death, artists were no longer censored, it was like an outburst of new creative and lively art. Antonio Banderas (61), who’s also worked with Almodóvar, tells how this movement had, punk, rock, freedom, joy, colour, LGBTQ characters, and Almodóvar was famous for that.
“You know, he was one of the first filmmakers to have LGBTQ characters being just people, not like – this is a problem, or this is an issue. They were just, like, people in the film. A part of em>La Movida was really crazy, but there was something else behind it that was so respectful, inclusive and revolutionary,” says Cruz.
Almodóvar talks about Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem with admiration and an extreme feeling of brotherhood.
40 years later, in ‘Parallel Mothers’, he tells the story of Janis, a woman who becomes a mother late in life as she struggles to solve the crimes of the Franco dictatorship by campaigning for the exhumation of a mass grave near her home village. Hardly anyone can weave love and politics, past and present as elegantly as Almodóvar. He notes that his home country of Spain faced a difficult relationship with its history yet owes “a huge moral debt to the families of the disappeared”.
Almodóvar says: “I’m not a naturalistic filmmaker like Ken Loach or the Dardenne brothers. I don’t do that style. I always represent life, but it’s also a kind of artifice. But even with this artifice, I try to reflect the characters. Cukor is one of my favourite directors, he was a master at directing women, and that is what I would like to think I am trying.”
Playful and profound
Roger Golland reviews Almodóvar’s new film, Parallel MothersIf you are male there is little point in turning up for an Almodovar audition. The best you can hope for is to be a grainy photograph or extra. Men are largely absent, buried in unmarked graves or long departed from the scene. If you’re female, there’s little point in auditioning for a lead role either, unless you are Penelope Cruz, the director’s muse. She dominates this film, as she has dominated others, with a glowing performance as a single mother which surely deserves to be drenched in awards.
Cruz’s character Janis (after Janis Joplin, a favourite of her hippy mother) is a glossy magazine photographer who gets pregnant after a brief affair with a married forensic anthropologist. She shares a maternity room with the much younger and fragile Ana (Milena Smit), who we learn is a gang rape victim whose history her parents are selfishly keen to put aside. The babies get swapped, the first in a series of melodramatic plot twists.
What is the film about? The word ‘parallel’ in the title is misleading until the recurring DNA swabs remind you of double helixes, binding the two women in an emotional spiral. The truth about the respective babies’ parentage creates a tangle of maternal and sexual yearnings, acted out in glorious light and Mondrian colour.
‘Parallel’ better applies to the second storyline of the anthropologist’s search for the buried remains of Janis’ grandfather, murdered by Franco’s forces in the early weeks of the Civil War. The lives of generations of women in her family have been scarred by buried memories. The film ends with a trademark overhead camera shot of the excavated grave, skeletons transformed back into human form, identities recovered. And, to make sure we get the message, a quotation as the credits roll: “No history is mute. No matter how much they burn it, no matter how much they break it, no matter how much they lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth.”
Although much has been made of Almodóvar venturing into Spain’s recent past, the last fifteen minutes of the film are quite an abrupt change from the tribulations of single motherhood, female solidarity, and loss. ‘We are all feminists now’ on an ample t-shirt warns that polemic is coming.
A key scene in Janis’ impeccable kitchen, when she remonstrates with Ana for not addressing the past, feels a bit contrived after everything else Janis has come to terms with. Ana’s rapist is identified, but we don’t get to see his come-uppance. Reconciliations and another pregnancy follow in quick succession, to give us an optimistic ending.
So the film is not a perfect masterpiece. It is tempting to read too much into the soundtrack, the selection of paintings hanging on the wall, the spinster roles Ana’s actress mother is playing; indeed at one point I wondered if we were supposed to regard Janis as Mother Spain. But with close-ups of Cruz and Smit filling the frame, against a palette of shimmering reds and greens, any faults are trivial in comparison. It is a delicious, playful and, in many ways, a profound film. Please see it on a big screen.