Women have always been in the center of Pedro Almodovar’s films, driving his narrative. For the past few years, a woman has also been in the editing chair. For years, José Salcedo Palomeque was his go-to editor, until Palomeque died in 2017. Since then, Teresa Font has been working by the filmmaker’s side, on set and cutting dailies — she cut his latest film, “Parallel Mothers,” where emotion was imperative to the storytelling.
Almodovar says, the two didn’t preestablish what rhythm the editing would take. “The film itself calls for how it wants to breathe. The important thing is that we agree on how we evaluate the shot,” he says. Additionally, when it came to coverage, Almodovar, who often could attempt 30 takes, confesses he used fewer takes than ever for this. “It was not necessary to repeat takes because one or two captured what I wanted.”
“Parallel Mothers” stars Almodovar’s muse, Penelope Cruz, and follows two single women who meet in a hospital room where they are both going to give birth. One is middle-aged and doesn’t regret it, while the other is adolescent and scared. The two women form a strong bond with one another as they both confront motherhood.
When it came to the film’s rhythm, Almodovar says, “The pacing of the film is a very abstract and personal thing, it is driven by whatever a director’s ideas are about narration and by the genre of the film. The idea is to hold on to a shot until it becomes expressive, at the moment when it ceases to be, is when one must cut. Font concurs that to help with that emotion, she put herself in the actor’s position — in this case Cruz’s shoes. She said, “I have to feel how she feels to know where to cut, and have that sense of what the emotion tells you.”
In scenes where Cruz’s Janis is alone in the apartment with her newborn child, Font would linger on Cruz’s expressions, which were the key to driving the narrative forward. “She had this look in her eyes without uttering a single word, and you could feel what was going on in her mind,” explains Font.
A deep political theme on the Spanish Civil War runs through the course of the film. When Janis approaches Arturo, played by Israel Elejalde, to help excavate a mass grave, Cruz’s Janis is forced to face a home truth after running a home paternity test. Her performance and shock reaction were vital. Almodovar says, “The power of the sequence almost absolutely depends on her performance. We witness how, after her initial shock, while stammering and knocked down, she attempts to call her lawyer. Since she doesn’t find him, she calls Arturo, the baby’s father, but she pulls back at the last minute.” He continues, “She calls Ana because she intuits that she somehow holds the key to the situation, and she also cannot reach her. She has to traverse through all of that before she finally decides that she’s going to act as if she didn’t know. When she turns the computer off, she is mentally wiping away the news of the results of the maternity test.”
It was here that Font’s editing needed to accompany the different moments of tension that the character was experiencing. Says Almodovar, “In this case, it’s the character’s changing moods what determines the editing rhythm – it’s rapid and tense.”
His favorite edited moment? “During the last part of the film, when Penélope shares her secret with Ana. The entire situation until Ana leaves is made up of a block of about 15 sequences where the emotional tempo that the editing marks is extraordinarily efficient and heartbreaking,” says Almodovar.