×

Closing out the New York Film Festival, Pedro Almodóvar’s newest venture, “Parallel Mothers,” debuted with an endearing and scintillating turn from Penélope Cruz and newcomer Milena Smit, both of whom will be angling for much-deserved awards attention. But can it go any further than that?

Fresh off winning the prestigious Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival, it’s easy to see why Cruz was a jury favorite. While it’s not the best work of her career, Cruz makes all of her acting interpretations and choices look effortless. The ability to drop tears, invoke an undeniable sex appeal, and command the camera lens is not something many actresses of her caliber can do. Her Oscar journey began in the hands of the Spanish auteur. She received her first nom for “Volver” (2006), though the film wasn’t nominated in the foreign-language category. This catapulted her into an awards magnet: She won two years later for Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008) in supporting actress and tacked on one more mention the following year for “Nine” (2009), despite mixed reviews for the film. In the seemingly weakest of the four acting categories this year, a savvy awards campaigner like Sony Pictures Classics could give her the proper support to ensure a nomination for best actress. Almodóvar’s last feature “Pain and Glory” (2019) nabbed Antonio Banderas an overdue lead actor nom.

Equally affecting, and in many ways stealing the movie entirely, is 25 year-old Smit, invoking a character that seems to show elements of past nominees like Marina de Tavira (“Roma”) and Chloë Sevigny (“Boys Don’t Cry”). She’s able to do so much with simple inflections of her voice or devastate the viewer with her eyes. She’s likely a longshot for supporting actress recognition, but if the film manages to pick up steam and regional critics come to her aid (perhaps another LAFCA win for a foreign actress winner?), she may be able to become a “package deal” with her co-star on ballots. I don’t think you love Cruz without adoring Smit.

Lazy loaded image
Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Almodóvar has assembled one of his most aesthetically rich outings in his repertoire. His ace in the hole is composer Alberto Iglesias, who orchestrates a tension-filled yet intoxicating score that the Academy’s music branch would be criminal to ignore. A three-time nominee for “The Constant Gardener” (2006), “The Kite Runner” (2007) and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (2011), with a snub under his belt for “Pain and Glory” (2019), it’s safe to say he now harnesses the label of “overdue.” Cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, a frequent collaborator with Almodóvar, brings the quintessential bold colors and familiar framing we’ve grown to love. With louder and larger projects in the race like “Dune” and “The Power of the Dog,” along with the multitude of black and white outings like “Belfast” and “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” it could be challenging for him to crack the lineup.

In classic Almodóvar fashion, the movie, produced by Agustín Almodóvar and Esther García, is structured as a telenovela (or Spanish soap opera), presenting exciting characters of moral ambiguity and complexity, infused with comedic beats to offer balance. At this juncture in his career, critics and voters are either on board with that construction, or they’re not. Nevertheless, members of the writer’s branch may find themselves enamored with it again, landing him in contention for original screenplay. However, the script does feel overcooked, sprinkling in narrative beats and actions that don’t seem necessary, all culminating in a finale that has the power to move viewers but may feel like a curveball.

So, where does this film stand in the awards race?

There are many international entries seeking love outside of the international feature race. Between Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero” and Juho Kuosmanen’s “Compartment No. 6,” another SPC distributed picture, the overall reception and campaign tactics will determine the Almodovar film’s fate in major categories such as picture and director.

Spain recently decided to submit Fernando León de Aranoa’s “The Good Boss” instead of “Parallel” for international feature, which shocked awards pundits. Spain’s history with the Oscars has been quite fruitful, and it currently holds the third-most nominations and wins (tied with Japan and Denmark) in the history of the international feature category. Film director José Luis Garci has represented Spain seven times, achieving four nominations and one win. Almodóvar has represented Spain seven times and has earned three Oscar nominations, including one win. As many will recall, the European country famously chose Fernando León de Aranoa’s “Mondays in the Sun” instead of Almodóvar’s “Talk to Her” in 2001, resulting in their selection not being nominated by the Academy. “Talk to Her” received noms for directing and original screenplay, the latter of which he won.

Time will tell if we see parallels between other recent foreign language embraces (i.e., Thomas Vinterberg for “Another Round”) or whether it will mimic the last few cinematic ventures from one of Spain’s favorite filmmakers.

2022 Academy Awards Predictions