Motherhood is a recurring subject in the films of Pedro Almodóvar. The mothers in his movies are fierce, passionate, and resourceful—often in varying combinations, and to varying extremes. In Almodóvar’s darkly satirical fourth feature, What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984), Carmen Maura stars as a woman who, struggling to pay for her son’s dental treatments, winds up selling him to the dentist. In a Sophia Loren–inspired maternal role in the melodrama Volver (2006), Penélope Cruz unblinkingly protects her daughter, who has murdered an abuser. Almodóvar also shows the sacrosanct, often erotic attachment between mothers and children in all its drawn-out, lifelong tragedy: Victoria Abril’s character in High Heels (1991) sustains an unrequited passion for her famous mother, even going so far as to sleep with her mother’s male impersonator. One of the protagonists of Talk to Her (2002) studies nursing so that he can take physical care of his mother. Julieta (2016) is a love story in which a mother waits for her estranged daughter, who left without a trace.Pain and Glory (2019) also makes a mother and child its central couple. Jacinta (Cruz) forms with her precocious Salvador a bond of abrasive yet tender complicity. She lays out a quilt for him to sleep rough beside her at a railway station. She becomes aware of his first erotic inklings as he lies sunstruck and flushed, his face peach-soft, after watching a man wash naked. But Pain and Glory also pushes forward to Salvador’s middle age, in which he is played by Almodóvar regular Antonio Banderas, the mother now by Julieta Serrano. Jacinta returns as a conflictual figure, regretting that Salvador didn’t ask her to live with and look after him in his adulthood. He feels intense sadness that, instead of being with him in her own home, she dies in a clinic in Madrid.
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