Tag Archives: Penelope Cruz

All About Two Mothers

Parallel Mothers

by Hope Madden

Resilient women, absent men, memory, family, trauma, grace—somehow filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar revisits every one of these ideas to one degree or another in each film he makes.

Parallel Mothers, the auteur’s latest, hits all those notes. But the song is never the same.

In this case, Janis (Penélope Cruz) and Ana (Milena Smit) meet in the maternity ward. Both are about to become single mothers, both pregnancies unplanned. Janis, a career woman who’d thought her time had passed, is elated. Ana, a teen with her own parent problems, is terrified.

The two share a room, deliver on the same day, and bond over the blessing of their first daughters. Life, of course, takes the women and their babies in unexpected directions but it is the bond that the film celebrates.

Almodóvar’s vibrant tone creates an atmosphere where anything could happen. Parallel Mothers could turn on a dime and become a murder mystery (notes of Hitchcock in that score), political allegory (a radiant backstory full of non-actors begs for your attention), or even a comedy.

Instead, it takes shape as a messy family drama, one so full of twists it recalls the filmmaker’s 1988 breakout Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Plot turns certainly suggest one of his raucous, over-the-top comedies, but Parallel Mothers is poignant in its drama.

The shocks and surprises are handled with sincerity by the cast, who imbue the film with an intimacy that grounds it. Cruz— Almodóvar’s go-to for a transcendent woman—commands the screen, an empathetic central figure even when Janis’s choices are morally muddy.

Smit cuts a curious and melancholy figure, a perfect mix to suit Ana, a woman still discovering who she is. Her enigmatic presence is balanced by Aitana Sánchez-Gijón as an entirely different kind of mother. The three women orbit each other, the men in their lives conspicuously absent.

It’s the absence, among other things, that gives Parallel Mothers its power. As complicated and showy as the dramatic twists are, it’s the backstory of Spain’s Civil War—the longing, the absence of fathers and husbands—that haunts the film.

It’s one of Almodóvar’s most tender films, and one of Cruz’s very finest performances. And though both always play well together, they have again found something new and remarkable to say.

Women of the World

The 355

by George Wolf

Apparently, Jessica Chastain pitched the idea of an all-female Bond/Bourne hybrid to director Simon Kinberg while they were making Dark Phoenix together.

Now three years later The 355 is here, and while it’s more memorable than their X-Men installment, the project can never give the duo’s ambitious vision its own identity.

Chastain is “Mace,” a CIA agent sent to Paris with her partner (and maybe more?) Nick (Sebastian Stan). The job is to get their hands on a new cyber weapon that serves as an untraceable master key – and instant entry into any closed system on the planet.

But surprise, Mace and Nick aren’t the only agents hot for that drive, so after 45 minutes of chases and exposition, Germany’s Maria (Diane Kruger), MI6’s Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o) and Columbia’s Graciela (Penelope Cruz) agree to team up and fight for the future. Then after another 15 minutes or so, China’s Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan) joins the world party.

Actually, Gracie’s a reluctant guest, as she’s really a psychologist and not trained for combat. So while her secret agent sisters do get to be the impressive badasses, it’s Cruz who brings the film some welcome fish-out-of-water levity.

Kinberg, who also co-wrote the script, pushes all the buttons you’d expect from a mixtape full of Bond’s high-style sexy, Bourne’s lethal brooding, and some Danny Ocean misdirection. And most of it – from Chastain in this role to the cybercrime stakes to the moments of telegraphed action and even the girl power makeover – feels pretty familiar, and that familiarity breeds discontent with the two-hour run time.

Events finally escalate in the third act, and as the globe-trotting and the double-crosses mount, Kinberg does deliver one nicely orchestrated set-piece that truly grabs your attention with tension and bloodshed.

Is it enough to merit that next adventure the finale hints at? Not really, but it’s just enough to make one three-year-old conversation worthwhile.