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Oscar-tipped generational trauma in Pedro Almodovar's 'Parallel Mothers'

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar with Penélope Cruz on the festival circuit 'Parallel Mothers'
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar with Penélope Cruz on the festival circuit 'Parallel Mothers'   -   Copyright  AP
By Shannon McDonagh  with AFP

According to estimates by historians, more than 100,000 victims of the Spanish Civil War lie in mass graves.

'Parallel Mothers' – known to Spaniards as 'Madres Paralelas' – is experimental cinema's own Pedro Almodovar's attempt to pick at the subject matter through the lens of motherhood, with the hope of healing some wounds.

"In Spanish homes... nobody talked about the war," Almodovar explains.

He says there is collective generational trauma constantly being swept under the carpet as a result.

The Spanish filmmaker's favourite actress, Penélope Cruz, took home the award for `Best Actress at the festival for her role in the story.

If reviews are anything to go by, it could be her ticket to a second Oscar.

Cruz plays Janis (a nod to American singer Janis Joplin), a forty-something photographer, who becomes pregnant by an archaeologist and married friend.

Their initial bond begins over a promise to help her find the burial place of her great-grandfather, who disappeared in 1930s.

A nation tasked with processing grief and new life

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
The repercussions of Spain's dictatorship are explored throughout this filmEvan Agostini/Invision/AP

Almodovar suggests Spain is very much in a state of unsettled recovery when it comes to Francisco Franco's rule.

It's a topical issue, where the government is working to advance the work of memory and bring out of the mass graves the thousands of victims of the dictatorship.

"We cannot settle our history definitively as long as we have not paid our debt to the missing," said the former enfant terrible of Movida at Venice Film Festival earlier this year.

He is once again inspired by a childhood "surrounded by women," his mother as well as his neighbours. With this film, he opts to portray "imperfect, questionable" characters dealing with the modern-day fallout from the war, instead of "omnipotent" maternal characters.

Controversial promotion strategy?

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Instagram were forced to apologise for interfering with the promotion of 'Parallel Mothers'Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

In 'Parallel Mothers', Almodovar remains faithful to his themes and his style.

Shot in Madrid earlier this year, it caused quite the controversy when Instagram had to apologise for removing a promotional poster featuring a lactating nipple, posted to Cruz' account with over 5 million followers.

Alongside Cruz, the director hired a young actress, 24-year-old Milena Smit. She plays Ana, a young woman who gives birth at the same time as Janis, in the same maternity hospital.

For them, as for the generation of their mothers or their grandmothers, who lost a father or a husband during the civil war, the world is being built without men, cowardly, absent, or violent.

Both will see their fate turned upside down, reshaping the film's trajectory masterfully.

How? You'll have to wait, if you've not yet seen it in Spain or on the festival circuit.

'Parallel Mothers' has been acquired for release by Netflix, and will feature in cinemas across Europe from January 2022.