Spanish director Pedro Almodovar returned to the New York Film Festival on Friday (October 8) to bring his new film “Parallel Mothers” starring actress Penelope Cruz.
The film shines a spotlight on the tens of thousands of people who disappeared during the civil war and Franco’s dictatorship.
Last month the film was praised as it opened the Venice Film Festival and Cruz walked away with the best actress prize.
Cruz leads the cast as one of two women giving birth in the same Madrid hospital on the same day, which is a reflection on motherhood and the importance of family ties. But it also dwells on a painful chapter of Spanish history that the country is still struggling to come to terms with.
Almost 50 years after the death of General Francisco Franco, more than 100,000 victims of summary executions during the 1936-39 civil war and the authoritarian rule that followed remain buried in unmarked mass graves dotted all over Spain.
The majority were Republicans or leftist sympathizers killed by fascist forces, and their relatives seeking a dignified closure have often received little help from Spanish authorities to locate and excavate their remains.
The director said Spain was still reluctant to confront its troubled and divisive past, despite some steps taken by the government in recent years to fund the locating of mass graves and the identification of the dead.
On the red carpet, Almodovar said he is pleased American audiences are embracing the story and to continue his working relationship with Cruz: “Penelope is like part of my family. And so, I mean, we, we invest so much working together. So, it’s easier for me, I mean just to work with Penelope then with other, with other actresses.
Newcomer Milena Smit plays opposite Cruz in the film and said the filming experience was a gift.
“Pedro … gives you so much freedom within his restricted universe. For me it’s been a complete rewarding experience and I hope that it gets repeated more times.”
Almodovar has already declared her a star: “She’s a natural born actress. And when you are the director and you are, you see for the first time someone, I mean, that is going to be very big this is an incredible privilege, an incredible present.”
In the film, Cruz plays Janis, a single woman near her forties who unexpectedly becomes pregnant – just like teenager Ana, played by Smith, whom Janis meets in hospital on the day they are each due to give birth to a baby girl.
Their lives become increasingly intertwined when the man Janis had an affair with asks for a paternity test, while she also looks for help to exhume the body of her great-grandfather, murdered by Franco’s forces.
Cruz, an Almodovar favorite who says she decided to become an actress after seeing one of his films at 16, said Janis was her most complex character so far and she felt very privileged to work once again with the film-maker who helped make her a celebrity.
The film will will be released in the U.S. on December 24th.
(Production: Alicia Powell)