Distinct from the many maternal figures she has fleshed out over decades of stardom, Penélope Cruz’s role in Parallel Mothers manifests motherhood liberated from common patriarchal impositions, but still observed with attention to all its philosophical crevices.
In her most recent rendezvous with the Spanish master Pedro Almodóvar, the actress lends the natural candor of her visage to Janis, a photographer who strides along as a single parent of a newborn daughter. Cruz glides between the sheer devotion in holding a precious child and the sternness needed to confront the wrenches that destiny throws at her happiness.
With tortured facial expressions and a brewing exasperation, always attuned to the appropriate tone the enigmatic melodrama requires, Cruz communicates the anguish of a grave contradiction: Janis seeks answers about the whereabouts of a group of victims of the Spanish Civil War while harboring a secret about what she cherishes most. Cruz’s performance is one of tense ambivalence in navigating the truth.
The emotional dissonance between these conflicting modes makes for a destructive inner force for the character, which the actress grounds all along from nagging doubt, to shocking discovery, to the concealment of guilt, and ultimately to a riveting catharsis. As Janis, Cruz portrays the defiance of a woman working through the debris of it all on her own terms, even when the negative outcome of her idealized hope of becoming a mother knocks her down.
With an unassuming magnetism, Cruz appears comfortable under the glitzy and often unforgiving shimmer of the Hollywood machine and in the intimacy of a collaboration with a demanding auteur. What she summons in Parallel Mothers amounts to an earth-shattering culmination of a career in which a seemingly nonchalant grace collides with the strength of a humble maturity.
— Carlos Aguilar