PARALLEL MOTHERS*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Mark
Janis Martinez (Penélope Cruz) is a photographer in Madrid who is taking pictures of a forensic archeologist named Arturo (Israel Elejalde). After the shoot, Janis chats with Arturo to suggest he help her with a personal project — her great-grandfather and other men who lived in her village were killed by fascists during the Spanish Civil War and buried in an unmarked mass grave. One of the men wasn’t fully dead and ran back to the village to report where this spot was. So, for decades, her family have hoped to have the body exhumed so they can give the body a proper burial alongside her great-grandmother. But the government will not dig it up after years of requests, dragging their feet to even consider it. Since Arturo has a foundation for matters like this, she wants him to consider helping her secure permits and use the historical society’s funding to excavate the grave. He says he will consider it. The two then become romantic and sleep together.
It’s now months later. Janis is in the hospital, pregnant, sharing a room with a teenaged mother, Ana (Milena Smit). Janis also meets Ana’s mother, Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), a middle-aged actress who has been distant from her daughter so she could pursue a career before she’s too old to become the star she feels she was destined to be. She spends her time in the hospital boasting about how great she did at an audition to play Rosita in “Doña Rosita.” In contrast, Janis’ best friend, Elena (Almodóvar’s muse, Rossy de Palma), who’s a magazine editor visits the hospital, excited for Janis.
Janis and Ana bond in the hospital room, both going through similar labor pains and both single mothers. We learn Janis was named after Janis Joplin by her hippie mother, who died young so she was raised by her grandmother. Ana has been neglected her whole life because her mom was so self-involved as an actress. The two women give birth simultaneously. Afterward, the babies are taken from the mothers for assessment over minor concerns.
Janis goes home with her baby, whom she named Cecilia after her grandmother, and easily falls into the role of doting mother. She is very aggressive with the teenage girl she hired to watch her — letting the baby sleep on its stomach when she could die if she vomited; wearing headphones while she does homework instead of keeping her ears open for any irregular sounds from the baby. Janis stays in touch with Ana and they talk about being single mothers. Ana explains that her mother has left her to pursue acting; she has gotten the role of Rosita the spinster and we see her rehearsing an emotional scene. The director tells her the theater in Madrid they were going to open in isn’t ready so they will begin by previewing the show all around Spain. Teresa points out that she’s supposed to be helping her daughter with her baby but the director is adamant she makes the choice to leave her obligations for the sake of her career. She does and Ana struggles being a single mother, unlike Janis, who has taken to it.
When Arturo comes to see the baby, he is taken aback at how dark the baby looks, unlike both him and Janis. She imagines it’s because she resembles some ancestor but he is adamant he is not the father. Janis is insistent he is the only person who could be the father but he doesn’t believe it. Janis realizes what could have happened given that Ana and her both had babies in observation at the same time. She orders not a paternity test but a maternity test. She swipes both inside her mouth and inside the baby’s and submits the swabs for testing.
When Janis gets the results back from the maternity test, it specifies with 99.9% certainty that she is NOT the mother of the baby she has been caring for. Her world stops and she tries to call Arturo but he is not available. The same with Ana, whom she stops from telling. After deliberation, Janis silently decides to pretend she doesn’t know this information rather than change babies after bonding with this one for so long.
Time has gone by and Janis goes to a cafe near where she lives — only to be waited on by Ana, whom she hasn’t heard from in a long time. Janis invites Ana up to her apartment up the road and there, Ana reveals that her baby Anita had died from crib death; unpreventable, the baby just forgets how to breathe during its sleep. Janis asks Ana to share a photo and when she pulls one up, Janis notices that the child resembled her, with her light features.
Janis offers Ana a job as a live-in maid, after firing the previous teenage girl for incompetency. Ana now helps take care of the baby Cecilia. Janis casually swabs both Ana and Cecilia’s mouths and now submits these swabs off for DNA testing. When she gets the results back, she is told that with 100% accuracy, Ana is the mother of Cecilia.
Arturo comes over to see his daughter and Janis flashbacks to when she first learned she was pregnant and Arturo was insistent she give up the baby for abortion. He was already married and wants to be loyal to his wife as she’s going through chemotherapy. But of course, Janis decides to keep her baby.
In the present day, Ana proves to be a great help and the two begin a close relationship. Ana reveals that her daughter was born after she was raped so she doesn’t know which of the three young men were her father. She explains that she had a crush on one boy but two of his friends filmed her having sex and blackmailed her into having sex with them, too. Ana’s father convinced her not to report the crime to avoid negative press for the family. When Ana pulls up a photo of the group of boys who had sex with her, Janis looks at all of their faces until she sees one teen boy who resembles Cecilia.
As their relationship blossoms, Ana initiates a sexual relationship which Janis participates in casually but not fully. She is actually reigniting her relationship with Arturo, whose foundation has finally approved excavating the potential gravesite in her childhood village. He also reveals that his wife, now recovered from cancer, is separating and he can leave without any guilt of abandoning her during her time of need. The two of them celebrate the excavation going forward by going out to dinner, upsetting Ana who has become territorial of Janis. Teresa also comes back into Ana’s life at this time and apologizes for being a bad mother as she pursued an acting career.
Janis returns to her childhood village and collects information about men whose bodies were never recovered from their living ancestors. She is told stories about the Spanish Civil War and how horrible it was for men to leave their homes and never return while the women and children stayed in hiding. Many identifiable objects are mentioned if the bodies are recovered, to determine who is who, such as a woman who says her grandfather always wore an engraved ring.
When Ana confronts Janis at their dwindling relationship, Janis tearfully admits she’s been hiding a piece of information from her. She goes to her computer and shows her the two maternity tests — one revealing Janis isn’t the mother of Cecilia; the other revealing Ana is. Ana is angry and takes Cecilia away from the home, now knowing she is the biological mother. This breaks Janis’ heart. She also has to call Arturo and explain that Cecilia isn’t their daughter; that there was a switch at the hospital. Arturo comes to her place and comforts her as she upsets that she’s now childless as her biological child has died.
The next morning, Janis gets a call from Ana who, now with a clear head, suggests that Janis is welcomed into Cecilia’s life the way she had been when she was perceived to be Janis’ daughter.
Months pass and Janis is now in her childhood village, where surviving relatives gather while the foundation works on excavating the suspected site of the mass grave. It is confirmed as the correct spot as skeletons are recovered. The objects that the relatives had mentioned before are found on individual bodies, helping them identify who was who. The families are now finally able to receive closure, over 80 years later.
Ana arrives at the site with Cecilia, whom Janis is happy to see. It’s also revealed Janis is now pregnant again, with Arturo’s baby, her chance to be a mother after the death of her first child.
Janis is a photographer who has a fling with an archeologist, Arturo, who she is photographing; she asks him to help get approval to excavate a site in her childhood village where her great-grandfather would have been buried after being killed by fascists in the Spanish Civil War. After a sexual fling with Arturo, Janis becomes pregnant and gives birth on the same day as her hospital roommate, a teenage girl named Ana. The two of them keep in touch; while Janis takes to raising her infant daughter, Ana struggles without any outside support. After everyone is suspicious that the baby’s father is not Arturo’s because she is so dark, Janis takes a maternity test and learns she is not the mother, immediately realizing the babies must have been swapped at birth. She decides to keep this a secret but later stumbles upon Ana when she moves to her neighborhood; Ana reveals her daughter has died of crib death. Janis suggests she move in and help her take care of Cecilia and the two become close so that Janis finally reveals the truth in that Ana is the biological mother of who they thought was her baby. Ana claims her daughter and runs away but quickly reconsiders, allowing Janis to remain in her life and the life of the child she raised mistakenly. Meanwhile, Arturo is able to secure the funding to excavate the site and recover the bodies for the surviving family members; it is also at this time that we learn Janis is pregnant again with Arturo’s baby.