Home > Reviews > PARALLEL MOTHERS [MADRES PARALELAS] – Alberto Iglesias


February 15, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

While many people cite Spielberg and Williams, Fellini and Rota, Hitchcock and Herrmann, or Zemeckis and Silvestri as some of the greatest long-term director-composer collaborations in cinema history, for lovers of Spanish cinema the prime pairing is between Pedro Almodóvar and Alberto Iglesias. After having worked with Bernard Bonezzi during the early part of his career, and then flirting with composers like Ryuichi Sakamoto and Ennio Morricone, Almodóvar first hired Iglesias for The Flower of My Secret in 1995, and they have worked together on every film since. Their collaboration includes such acclaimed titles as All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Volver, The Skin I Live In, and Pain and Glory, 12 films and counting. Six of Iglesias’s 11 Goya Awards have been for his work on Almodóvar’s films, and every time a new one is announced it is met with great anticipation. The surprising thing about this is that, by and large, I haven’t really liked any of them.

Parallel Mothers – Madres Paralelas in its native Spanish – is a family drama that examines the nature of motherhood. Almodóvar’s muse, Penélope Cruz, stars as Janis, a middle-aged woman who unexpectedly gets pregnant as a result of an extramarital affair with a client; on the day she gives birth she randomly finds herself sharing a maternity room with Ana, a teenager, and they give birth almost simultaneously. They become friends, and keep one another updated on their respective babies’ progress. However, things take a dramatic turn when Ana turns up at Janis’s home one day – Ana’s baby has unexpectedly died, a victim of SIDS or cot death, and she is now claiming that hers and Janis’s babies were switched at the hospital, and she is the true mother of Ana’s daughter. It’s an emotional, dramatic story that has been well-received by both critics and audiences, and has resulted in Oscar nominations for Cruz as Best Actress, and Iglesias for Best Score.

The accompanying notes for the soundtrack for Parallel Mothers say that ‘Alberto Iglesias has written one of his most intense, emotional, and moving large-orchestral scores, with echoes of Ravel, Debussy, and the Spanish tradition of Manuel de Falla,’ and while that may be true, I feel that the score actually has more in common with Bernard Herrmann. It’s a tense, nervous score written mainly for a string chamber orchestra, with special focus on viola and double bass. In trying to capture the heart of the story Iglesias mostly ignores the happier emotions associated with motherhood and instead concentrates on the stresses: Janis’s nervousness about being an older mother, and the deteriorating relationship she has with the baby’s father, and then Ana’s nervousness about being a teenage mother, her relationship with her own mother, and then the horror of losing the baby so soon after it’s birth. All of this sounds great in theory but, yet again, the thing that always happens to me with Iglesias scores happened yet again: I got very bored very fast.

It’s inexplicable to me, why this keeps happening, but there’s just something about Alberto Iglesias’s music that acts as a barrier between me and it. I find his music very static, almost inert, to the point where I just find myself unable to connect with the emotions he is trying to convey. Technically there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it; in fact, I would go as far as to say from an actual compositional point of view it’s very good – clearly, the Spanish film industry adores him, and he is revered as one of the greatest Spanish film music composers of all time. I don’t really have the technical knowledge to explain why his music fails to engage with me, but it does, and I have simply come to accept that Iglesias is one of my blank spots. I dutifully listen to every score he writes with the hope that, finally, this will be the one that ignites a spark, but alas they never do. All his scores for Almodóvar, The Constant Gardener, The Kite Runner, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy… all the same muted music, all the same lack of emotional connection.

As for Parallel Mothers – as I said, I understand what Iglesias and Almodóvar are doing. This is emotional tragedy over emotional tragedy, and Iglesias scores it as such with a series of string-based laments. There are actually four recurring themes embedded within the score, the first being a primary identity for Janis and her sense of independence as an initially secure, confident older woman. Cues like the opening “Sesión de Fotos,” and subsequent cues like “El Visillo Volante” and “Madre de Día,” feature the theme prominently, blending rhythmic dancing strings with tambourine flair and an almost subliminal synth pulse. The strings are often layered in a way that is very reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s chord structure and harmonic language, and the increased percussive vibe of the theme is clearly intended to reflect Janis’s dynamism and verve.

This theme for Janis exists side-by-side with a second theme representing the ‘beauty of motherhood’ and her desire to become a parent. Here, in the second half of “El Visillo Volante,” and in cues such as “Fotos a la Niña,” Iglesias switches the lead instrument from strings to piano, and the music becomes tender, warmer, and more conventionally appealing. Then the third recurring theme is a love theme for Janis and Arturo, which can be heard prominently in “Las Visitas” and “La Vieja Cama,” and again layers Herrmannesque strings against moody woodwinds, creating an atmosphere of intimacy underpinned with a little sense of mystery, as if the music knows that Janis and Arturo’s relationship is forbidden. Very occasionally this woodwind writing is reminiscent of some of John Barry’s more sultry romance music, and as such is probably my favorite element of the score.

Finally, and most importantly, the score’s main theme does not appear until “La Pesadilla” – the nightmare – and represents the turning point in the score after Janis realizes that Ana is telling the truth, and that her baby is not really hers; the music reflects her sadness, her resignation, and her despondency. Thereafter, this main theme dominates much of the rest of the score, reaching its highest points of anguish and heartbreak in the 10-minute “La Revelación del Secreto,” and then combining with the love theme and the motherhood theme in the 10-minute finale “En Procesión/La Fosa”. It’s interesting to note how, as this theme overtakes the score, the other two themes representing both Janis’s independence, and her love of and need for motherhood, almost literally begin to deconstruct, as the nature of her relationship with Ana and the baby becomes more toxic.

Doesn’t all that sound great? As an intellectual exercise, and in terms of understanding what Iglesias was trying to achieve, Parallel Mothers has plenty to recommend. But – as I have tried to explain – there remains an impenetrable something about the score for Parallel Mothers that gets in the way, and stops my intellectual brain reconciling with my emotional heart. As the score meanders through several listless cues of shifting string textures, plinky pianos, and plucked harps – “Prueba de Maternidad,” “El Cuestionario del Laboratorio,” “Terrible Certeza,” others – I can feel my attention wandering and my patience being tested. Even a cue as pivotal as “Anita Ha Muerto” doesn’t really land, and ends up just seeming sluggish. It’s incredibly frustrating.

The album is rounded out by two pieces of classic jazz: George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy & Bess performed by Janis Joplin, and the standard “Autumn Leaves” by Joseph Kosma, performed by legendary trumpeter Miles Davis. I also want to make a point of acknowledging the shocking CD cover art, which is an extreme close-up of a woman’s nipple, with milk emerging from a lactiferous duct like a tear drop. The essence of motherhood indeed.

As I mentioned earlier, Parallel Mothers earned Alberto Iglesias his fourth Academy Award nomination, following The Constant Gardener in 2005, The Kite Runner in 2007, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011. However, considering the quality of the numerous scores that were on the Academy longlist but were not nominated, not to mention those that didn’t make the longlist at all, I sadly must conclude that others are clearly hearing and feeling something in this music that I am not. As such, I can probably recommend this wholeheartedly to those who already are admirers of Iglesias’s music. For everyone else… well. I think I’ve made my point.

Buy the Parallel Mothers soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Sesión de Fotos (1:12)
  • El Visillo Volante (2:15)
  • Las Visitas (4:13)
  • Fotos a la Niña (2:24)
  • Prueba de Maternidad (4:42)
  • El Cuestionario del Laboratorio (0:50)
  • Terrible Certeza (0:58)
  • Madre de Día (2:13)
  • La Pesadilla (2:53)
  • Tortilla Española (0:58)
  • Anita Ha Muerto (2:53)
  • No Te Despiertes (2:41)
  • La Revelación del Secreto (10:33)
  • Campo de Cultivo (0:48)
  • La Vieja Cama (1:17)
  • Relato del Bisabuelo Asesinado (0:50)
  • En Procesión/La Fosa (10:10)
  • Summertime (written by George Gershwin, performed by Janis Joplin) (3:59)
  • Autumn Leaves (written by Joseph Kosma, performed by Miles Davis) (10:59)

Running Time: 66 minutes 40 seconds

Quartet Records QR-461 (2021)

Music composed by Alberto Iglesias. Conducted by James Shearman. Orchestrations by Alberto Iglesias. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Edited by XXXX. Album produced by Alberto Iglesias.

  1. Michael
    February 17, 2022 at 1:17 pm

    Interesting review, Jon. While you mentioned that you haven’t liked any of Iglesias’s scores, I remember you gave a rave review to Exodus: Gods and Kings back then.

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