Plot: What’s it about?
Though I have no experience as a director, I have to imagine that when a director finds an actor they like, there’s a palpable bond. Take Hitchcock with James Stewart, Martin Scorsese with Robert DeNiro (and later Leonardo DiCaprio) and, of course, Pedro Almodóvar with Penélope Cruz. The latter duo have teamed up on several films: Pain and Glory, All About My Mother, Volver, Broken Embraces, Live Flesh, and I’m So Excited! That’s quite a collaboration. Their latest work is Parallel Mothers and it might just be their best one yet (though, by my own admission, I’ve not seen all of their previous work). Granted, this isn’t the kind of movie that I generally gravitate towards. It’s only that it was held in such high regard and garnered a few Oscar nominations (Best Actress and Best Original Score). As a step parent, I’ll never know the joy of making a woman out there a mother. Suffice it to say that the subject matter is somewhat…foreign to me. Nevertheless, let us take a look.
Janis (Penélope Cruz) is a photographer who has a fling with an anthropologist with Arturo (Isreal Elejalde). She’s hired him to exhume her great-great grandfather from an unmarked grave. Janis becomes pregnant from the fling and Arturo (who is married) makes it abundantly clear to her that he doesn’t intend to stick around for his paternal role. While in the hospital, Janis shares a room with Ana (Elena Smit), a pregnant teen who’s frightened of her situation. The two form a bond and give birth on the same day. A few months pass and Arturo comes to see his child. He tells Janis that he doesn’t think it’s his. She’s not sure either. To say any more would be, well, to rob the viewer of some plot points that wouldn’t make the movie as enjoyable.
In lesser hands, this could have been something akin to a Lifetime movie. And we don’t want that; especially with the talent involved. As I alluded to above, this most recent collaboration between Cruz and Almodóvar is undeniably their best. But that somewhat mirrors what life’s all about: when two people find one another and share a common bond, time will ultimately make things better. There are also a lot of moral decisions made in the movie that might not sit right with everyone. It’s not trying to promote a message, rather tells the story of one woman’s decisions and how they impact multiple lives. Simply put, this is a film that begs repeated viewings.
Video: How’s it look?
I have to say that this is one of the most beautifully-shot films I’ve seen in a long time. As an amateur photographer, I’d like to think that I can see things in a different light, how things are framed and the use of color that some others can’t. That’s not arrogance, rather it’s taking the 20+ years of me watching films for video quality and putting some of that knowledge to use in my own hobby. Having said that, Sony’s 1.85:1 AVC HD transfer is simply gorgeous from beginning to end. Colors render wonderfully, the scenes are picture perfect (pardon the pun) and all the usual caveats are present here with sharp detail, robust colors and strong contrast. Oddly this is available on some streaming platforms in 4K. I’d have liked to seen Sony release this in that format, but viewers will appreciate the visuals.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The included Spanish DTS HD Master Audio mix is also nice to listen to. Granted, my Spanish isn’t up to par so as we might expect – I did a lot of reading with the subtitles. There’s also an English dub, but I always find that throws the balance off. I’ve always felt a bit odd listening to foreign languages while watching a film – it’s just not the same. That being said, this is primarily a dialogue-driven film though some gentle/subtle nuances do add a bit of depth to some scenes. Not to be overlooked is the Academy Award-nominated score which really sets the mood and tone. It more than gets the job done, so I doubt anyone will be too disappointed.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Sony’s “Classics” line aren’t generally loaded down with supplements. And this is no exception.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Previews – Some other Sony titles are shown.
The Bottom Line
Admittedly this film won’t be for everyone. It took a lot for me to work up the nerve to give it a spin. But in the end, I’m glad I did. Pedro Almodóvar’s films have a way of connecting with the viewer and this one is right up there with the best of them. Sony’s transfer is spelndid, though the disc is lacking with any real supplemental material.