This is a Spanish film that Canadians in particular should find resonating. The background to the story is the discovery of long hidden graves that suggest Spain’s fascist past has not disappeared. It is not even past, as William Faulkner might say. And as Canada is learning, perhaps against its will, a horrific past cannot be ignored, it must be faced. Canada and Spain find themselves in similar circumstances for uncomfortably similar reasons.
The background of the film is the the ugly fact of hidden graves, but the foreground is deeply sensual and beautiful. The director Pedro Almodóvar uses that background to deliver a film about 2 similar (or parallel if you prefer) mothers. As the Guardian’s film critic Peter Bradshaw put it, “Here we have convergent mothers; intersecting mothers whose lives come together with a spark that ignites this moving melodrama, which audaciously draws a line between love, sex, the passionate courage of single mothers, the meaning of Lorca’s Doña Rositat the Spinster and the unhealed wound of Spain’s fascist past.”
In this film two single mothers—one young and the other about twice as old— meet and clash with electric results. Their two stories illuminate each other as they also hide the truth. Ultimately, that is what the film is about. It is important to uncover the truth disaster can follow a hidden truth that will not stay hidden and the redemption that is possible if it is revealed with honesty.
Penélope Cruz plays the part of Janis the older mother a glamorous photographer. The younger mother, Ana is played by Milena Smit a teenager with a troubled family past. Arturo ((Israel Elejalde), is anthropologist who works with a historical unit that was formed under Spain’s memory law that traces people killed by supporter of the fascist leader Fanco during the civil war. Janis believes her grandfather was one of the victims and beseeches Arturo to help her discover the truth. While they search for truth, they are less than honest with each other. And that makes all the difference.
The scenes are saturated with beauty. The interior scenes and clothes the women wear are transfused with spectacular colour, the food looks just as sensational, the art on the walls is transfixing. I got the feeling that the colors and foods were characters in the film. Every colour feels as choreographed as classical ballet. The sensual reality behind the abstract search for truth. The colours tell their own parallel story.
In the end the townspeople, carrying photos of their ancestors, to honour their dead, lie in the graves as the dead must have done. Like our indigenous Canadians they want to honour the dead.
The film is summed up, in a quotation from Eduardo Galeano at the end:
“However much they crush it,
However much they falsify it,
Human history refuses to stay silent.”
We would do well to acknowledge that and give up trying to deny it or hide it.