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'Parallel Mothers' is one of the very best of Pedro Almodóvar's career

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It’s not uncommon to find that the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar has made one of the best movies of the year—he’s had a long career of doing exactly that, and his latest, Parallel Mothers, is also one of the very best of that storied career.

One of the mothers of the title, and the one we are with most of the film, is Penélope Cruz, also doing some of her career-best work. She’s a woman nearing 40 and having a baby on her own, after splitting with the man she was having an affair with. That man is a forensic anthropologist who is helping Cruz locate the remains of her great-grandfather, believed to have been murdered during the Spanish Civil War. Cruz’s roommate at the hospital is a pregnant teenager, Ana, who is also about to be a single mother, and the two women bond over their shared experience as they have their children at roughly the same time, have to wait a bit longer than they’d like at the hospital as their babies get over some health issues, and as they both leave to begin their new lives as mothers.

As things often do, it all gets more complicated, although it gets complicated in ways things often don’t do. And Almodóvar’s ability to layer so many complex feelings and events on top of each other is almost impossible to believe. Any one of them would make up the entire plot of another movie. But because Almodóvar treats his characters with such empathy, because he genuinely cares about the women who are so often the focus of his films, we can understand how much their heads are spinning, and how conflicted they must feel about what’s happening. In some other world, this movie could be a caper or a fiasco or a bizarre psychodrama, but Almodóvar has so much love in his heart that we get real people dealing with difficult truths.

And we do have to confront those difficult truths in this life, sooner or later. Parallel Mothers shows us we have no choice but to acknowledge realities that seem unbelievable and figure out how to move forward, however painful that might be.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.