Thursday, January 27, 2022

2021 leftovers: Almodovar's latest gem and an animated doc finally arrive

Influential "Mothers" Smit, Cruz and Sánchez-Gijón.
No one paints women of all ages as extraordinarily as Pedro Almodovar, and so what if the master Spaniard's canvas is called the silver screen. The writer/director's latest, "Parallel Mothers," is among 2021's best films, stretching almost five distaff generations with artistic flair and a captivating story filled with the auteur's trademark twists and some legitimate politics, sexual and otherwise, on the side.

Almodovar's leading ladies almost always play smart, sexy and more than capable of living without men, and the "Mothers" here are no exception. The duo on which the plot mostly hangs -- professional photographer Janis (Penelope Cruz) and scared teen-ager Ana (Milena Smit) -- meet in a maternity ward where each will birth a beautiful baby girl and, perhaps, find their lives entwined together forever. (Huge close-ups of the single moms with their crying newborns speak loving volumes.)

Yes, more complications soon abound, and other characters, including Ana's career-centric actress/mother (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) and Janis' statuesque best friend (Rossy de Palma) flit in and out with memorable features and styles to match.

Of course, Almodovar used both the terrific Cruz (six times) and de Palma (five) before, but now also gives them some bookend history to consider about digging up bodies of unjustly executed ancestors from a Spanish Civil War 80 years earlier. The bonds of humanity will make sense when you view it.

("Parallel Mothers" finally opens wide Friday at theaters everywhere.)

Rated "R" by MPAA: some sexuality; 2:03; $ $ $ $ out of $5

Another 2021 entry ready to debut in northeast Ohio is the rare animated/documentary combination called "Flee," which happens to be a subtitled foreign film (offically from Denmark) to boot.

Now, before you start turning off computers and phones with more doubts than alacrity, please know that it possibly may become the first movie to be Academy Award-nominated in three different feature categories: Best Documentary,  Best International Film and Best Animated Feature. (It already has made the so-called "Oscar short list" in those first two realms and has been nominated in the latter one by both the Critics Choice Association and the Golden Globes, where it lost to "Encanto" earlier this month.) 

So, is it worthy a nominee? Here's one resounding "Certainly," at least for inclusiveness as an animation contender, since its often touching and elaborate story of an Afghan refugee's lenghthy flight to find freedom in Copenhagen is more powerful than the stuff in any of the other major challengers.

Otherwise, documentary footage is rather minimal, and a few holes in this telling by an anonymous protaganist -- called Amin here -- come with reasons that might astound as much as surprise. 

("Flee" continues to expand onto limited screens Friday, including one exclusively at the Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights. It is also available on an assortment of pay-to-stream outlets.)

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: thematic content, disturbing images and strong language; 1:29; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

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