Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Rossy de Palma, Julieta Serrano, Arantxa Aranguren, Adelfa Calvo, José Javier Domínguez, Carmen Flores, Trinidad Iglesias, Inma Ochoa, Ana Peleteiro, Daniela Santiago, Chema Adeva, Luna Auria Contreras
Runtime: 123Plot: Two unmarried women who have become pregnant by accident and are about to give birth meet in a hospital room: Janis, middle-aged, unrepentant and happy; Ana, a teenager, remorseful and frightened.
Certainly, the main framework here is typical Almodovar: Two unwed women meet in a maternity ward as they are each about to give birth. Janis (Penelope Cruz) is a photographer pushing 40. Elena (Milena Smit; natural and unaffected) is under-aged and living with her mom (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon). They both give birth the very same day to girls and don't want the respective fathers to be a part of their girls' lives. Their fateful meeting creates a bond that neither could have imagined. Cruz and Smit play off each other well, even as they keep crucial secrets from each other. Their age and life experiences simultaneously separate yet mysteriously draw them closer. Cruz has always been a fine actress, but, this can certainly be considered one of her very best. She's working on so many different levels, that it is remarkable that there is nary a false moment.
Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine and Production Designer Anton Gomez have each collaborated many times with Almodovar and seemingly instinctively give the Director a lush palette. Composer Alberto Iglesias' (another frequent Almodovar colleague) contributes a brilliant score in the key of Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock. It's superlative.
Almodovar's script certainly has elements of a thriller, but, as always, in his own way. Indeed, there are many points where the 'obvious' play would be to ramp up the suspense, but, Almodovar invariably subverts those expectations. The screenplay veers off, or withholds, just enough information about a given plot point for its meaning to be left unanswered in the moment. A puzzle piece to be connected later on. There are an occasional dull moment or two, a line that doesn't work, but, it's all in service. All of this subversion takes place against the backdrop of a seed that Almodovar plants in the very first scene: Janis has asked an archaeologist, Arturo (Israel Elejalde) to excavate the body of her great-grandfather in an unmarked grave, believing him to have been murdered during the bloody Franco regime in Spain.
What is remarkable about Almodovar's movie is that even with the heavy backdrop and some of the gloomy happenings in the Janis-Elena relationship, the filmmaker keeps tone so level; And if not light, at least warm and enjoyable. When the movie does get to its finale, Almodovar doesn't over-play it. As always, he allows for the characters and the situation to unfold and let the viewer soak it in. Lesser filmmakers would have used excessive close-ups, surging music and fancy camera moves. Here, it's just a series of simple shots. What makes it even more effective is that it's not simply what unfolds in that particular scene, but the accumulation of what the viewer has witnessed and experienced throughout. The theme of identity, the necessity to be fully honest. And yes, the parallels of different lives and truths criss-crossing at different times. It's perhaps the most emotionally devastating ending in any Almodovar film - and, that is saying something for master such as he.
Oscar Nominated for Best Actress (Penelope Cruz) and Best Score (Alberto Iglesias)