21 Movies Like Parallel Mothers (2021)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching Parallel Mothers ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

Whether or not you’re familiar with director Pedro Almodóvar’s body of work, Parallel Mother stands as a gorgeous melodrama, a striking story about motherhood and our ties to the past. On one level, it’s a simple but engaging drama about a misunderstanding that ensues between two women. But on another, it’s a deep dive into a nation’s cruel history, as well as an observation of people’s commitment to never letting that part of themselves go. The film references Almodóvar’s past films but it also works as a standalone, a perfect starting point for moviegoers interested in exploring his oeuvre. Of course, Penelope Cruz continues to be a powerhouse, each line delivery an emotional gut punch, while relative newcomer Milena Smit is stirring, a true revelation, as her director calls her.

The film opens with Julie in her early twenties, longing to pursue a career in medical school. But after briefly testing the waters, she switches over to psychology, only to drop completely out of school and transform her hobby of photography into a professional career. This indecisiveness carries over in most aspects of her life, including and especially in romance, where impulse and desire drive her to run after what she believes to be love. The movie follows Julie as she navigates adulthood in modern Oslo—at once a specific yet universally relatable story about the growing pains of growing up.

With The Worst Person in the World, Joachim Trier scores again with another life-changing Norwegian drama about longing, love, grief, and finding your place in the world. His films can be quite sad but amidst all the drama, moments of happiness and hope are scattered throughout, as it is in real life.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Anders Danielsen Lie, Anna Dworak, Gisle Tveito, Hans Olav Brenner, Herbert Nordrum, Ine Jansen, Maria Grazia Di Meo, Marianne Krogh, Renate Reinsve, Ruby Dagnall, Sofia Schandy Bloch, Thea Stabell, Vidar Sandem

Director: Joachim Trier

From Drive My Car director Ryusuke Hamaguchi comes another film featuring long drives, thoughtful talks, and unexpected twists. An anthology of three short stories, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy ponders over ideas of love, fate, and the all-too-vexing question, “what if?” 

What if you didn’t run away from the one you love? What if you didn’t give in to lust that fateful day? What if, right then and there, you decide to finally forgive?

Big questions, but without sacrificing depth, Hamaguchi does the incredible task of making every single second feel light and meaningful. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy will leave you with mixed emotions: excited, startled, dejected, hopeful. But one thing you won’t feel is regret over watching this instant classic of a film.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aoba Kawai, Aoba Kawai 河井清叶, Ayumu Nakajima, Fusako Urabe, Hyunri, Katsuki Mori, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kotone Furukawa, Shouma Kai

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rating: R-13

In Drive My Car, a widowed artist travels to Hiroshima for his latest production. There he meets a young woman enlisted to drive him around the area. They forge an unexpected bond and soon share pithy observations and long-buried secrets, which culminate in a touching scene of catharsis and forgiveness.

Not a lot is said in this three-hour film, but when words (and signals) are shared, they are always underlaid with simple but transcendent truths. Drive My Car is a gripping film that explores love and loss in its own quiet way, at once intense and intimate.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ahn Hwi-tae, Ahn Hwitae, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Jin Dae-yeon, Masaki Okada, Park Yu-rim, Perry Dizon, Reika Kirishima, Ryo Iwase, Satoko Abe, Shoichiro Tanigawa, Sonia Yuan, Toko Miura, Toshiaki Inomata

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rating: Unrated

Many films have tried to decipher the indecipherable bond between mothers and daughters. Lady Bird, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Turning Red, to name a few, center on this particular relationship, which to outsiders may seem strange at best and dysfunctional at worst. How can mothers yell at their daughters one second and coddle them the next? How can daughters treat mothers like their best friend and enemy all at once? 

One of the best films to explore this complexity is Petite Maman, a fantasy-like film that brings together mother and daughter in a unique situation, forcing them both to regard the other in otherwise impossible ways. It succeeds where others haven’t precisely because it accepts that this relationship is beyond dissecting, and the only way to honor it is in the poignant, poetic, and otherworldly way that it does. It’s a quiet film that manages to say a lot, not least of which is that it’s okay to feel and love and hurt as much as one does.

Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Joséphine Sanz, Margot Abascal, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne

Director: Céline Sciamma

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film's pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History, Music

Actor: Abbey Lincoln, B. B. King, Chris Rock, David Ruffin, Fidel Castro, Hugh Masekela, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, John V. Lindsay, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mahalia Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples, Max Roach, Moms Mabley, Nina Simone, Questlove, Redd Foxx, Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Walter Cronkite

Director: Questlove

It's heartbreaking to realize that Happening, a film set in 1960s France tracking a young woman's journey to dangerously and desperately terminating her pregnancy, is still very much relevant and relatable to this day. Around the world, abortion is still inaccessible, if not completely illegal, and women still struggle to lay full claim to their bodies. A lot of girls grow up with pregnancy statistics meant to instill fear, but Happening brings all that to brilliant life in intimate and unrestrained detail. The fears and wants of our protagonist Anne (played precisely by Anamaria Vartolomei) are palpable throughout. Nothing is held back in this film, and if you find yourself sick in parts, then it has achieved its goal of realistically conveying what it's like to stay alive in a society that fails to recognize your needs. 

 

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alice de Lencquesaing, Anamaria Vartolomei, Anna Mouglalis, Cyril Metzger, Édouard Sulpice, Fabrizio Rongione, Francois Loriquet, Julien Frison, Kacey Mottet Klein, Leïla Muse, Louise Chevillotte, Louise Orry-Diquéro, Luàna Bajrami, Pio Marmaï, Sandrine Bonnaire

Director: Audrey Diwan

Rating: R

, 2021

Celebrated Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s latest movie is about Rahim, a man who is in jail because he was unable to repay a debt. He gets a temporary release from prison, and with a big smile on his face, he leaves his confinement with a plan not to come back.

His secret girlfriend hands him a pack of gold coins, which they plan to sell to repay the creditor. But, as is custom with Farhadi’s movies, the center of the story is a moral dilemma that comes from one of the characters trying to be a good person. The gold coins are not Rahim’s or his girlfriend’s, but it's life-changing for both of them. 

Selected as Iran's official submission to the Oscars. 

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Amir Jadidi, Ehsan Goodarzi, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee, Mohsen Tanabande, Sarina Farhadi

Director: Asghar Farhadi

, 2021

In the first few minutes of Mass, hushed tones, solemn movements, and awkwardly averted eyes hint at an unspoken tragedy that haunts everyone in the film. The four main characters discuss it during a sit-down, but even then it remains unspeakable; such is the dedication of first-time full-length director Fran Kranz in depicting the reality of tragic events. Not much is done in the way of plot twists and shocks, but in place of those, Mass makes clever use of close-up shots and unmoving settings to portray the privacy and paralysis of grief. For this reason, Mass often feels like a masterful play brought to life, but also more than that, a brilliant portrait of healing—or at the very least, coping with the everlasting aftermath of loss. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ann Dowd, Breeda Wool, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Michelle N. Carter, Reed Birney

Director: Fran Kranz

, 2021

When Amin sits down for a tell-all interview about his troubling past, his memories come to life in vivid animation. Sometimes they are sweet and intimate, like when he recounts his time as a playful boy in a much freer Afghanistan. But often, they’re marred by the unbelievable horrors of refugee life. Now a successful academic and soon-to-be husband, Amin discovers the inescapability of his status and identity, the reality of which continues to threaten his safety to this day.

Relevant and vital, Flee sheds some much-needed light on an often-overlooked phenomenon. More than just displaying factoids and numbers, it relays the specific unease and constant vigilance that comes with fleeing one’s home. But as Amin’s story, it is also richly detailed and wonderfully personal; for all its harsh exposés, the film leaves enough room for Amin’s stirring realizations about love, identity, and sexuality.

Genre: Animation, Documentary

Actor: Behrouz Bigdeli, Belal Faiz, Daniel Karimyar, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Jean-Pierre Pernaut, Rashid Aitouganov, Tormod Ringnes

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Rating: PG-13

The Kings of the World is a surreal coming-of-age movie that follows Rá, Culebro, Sere, Winny, and Nano, street kids who are on their way to claim land that’s rightfully theirs. Their one goal is to finally make a home after living without one for so long, but they’re hindered by the inevitable tragedies that befall kids of their kind: impoverished, alone, and abandoned.

The title is ironic, but it also hints at their state of mind: these boys are unstoppable, rabble-rousers who live like there’s no tomorrow. They tear down private property and invade inns not out of spite, necessarily, but out of a knowledge that whatever they do they’re gonna be put down anyway, so they might as well live without rules.

Tackling powerful themes like land restitution and youth neglect, The Kings of the World is one of the most agonizing movies you'll ever see. It’s also Colombia’s official Best Foreign Language Film entry in the 2022 Academy Awards.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Brahian Acevedo, Carlos Andrés Castañeda, Cristian Campaña, Cristian David Duque, Davison Florez

Director: Laura Mora

Rating: TV-MA

A road trip movie with an unknown destination, Hit the Road plays with our expectations by avoiding any obvious questions we might have, and making us focus on the real important things. Informed by the censorship and persecution faced by critics of Iran's government—including director Panah Panahi's own filmmaker father, Jafar—the film places more focus on the very act of escape and what that can take from a family. And most importantly, through Panahi's skillful direction of rural Iran's varied, beautiful landscapes, he creates a conflicted relationship between character and setting, with entire emotional crescendos playing out just through a single shot of the environment. It's one of the most underappreciated movies of the year.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Amin Simiar, Hasan Ma'juni, Pantea Panahiha, Rayan Sarlak

Director: Panah Panahi

Belfast stars Outlander’s Caitríona Balfe as the mother of a working-class Northern Irish family during The Troubles. Religious tension and the lack of opportunities put the family in a difficult position: they're the first in many generations to think about leaving the city of Belfast. They all have to navigate so many difficult questions on belonging, religion, and identity.

The story,  based on the director’s own childhood, is packaged in a noise-canceling black and white format. Also stars Judi Dench.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bríd Brennan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, Conor MacNeill, Elly Condron, Gerard Horan, Gerard McCarthy, Jamie Dornan, John Sessions, Josie Walker, Jude Hill, Judi Dench, Lara McDonnell, Mairéad Tyers, Mark Hadfield, Michael Maloney, Olive Tennant, Oliver Savell, Orla McDonagh, Sid Sagar, Turlough Convery, Vanessa Ifediora, Victor Alli

Director: Kenneth Branagh

The Hand of God is the autobiographical movie from Paolo Sarrantino, the director of the 2013 masterpiece The Great Beauty. He recently also directed The Young Pope with Jude Law and Youth Paul Dano, both in English. He is back to his home Italy with this one. 

More precisely, he’s in his hometown Naples, in the 1980s, where awkward teenager Fabietto Schisa’s life is about to change: his city’s soccer team Napoli is buying the biggest footballer at the time, Diego Maradona.

Sarrantino, who is also from Naples, made this movie that is half a tribute to the city and half to what it meant growing up around the legend of Maradona.

The Hand of God is to Sarrantino what Roma was to Alfonso Cuarón, except it’s more vulgar, fun, and excessive. It is equally as personal though, and it goes from comedy to tragedy and back with unmatched ease.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alessandro Bressanello, Betti Pedrazzi, Birte Berg, Cristiana Dell'Anna, Daniele Vicorito, Dora Romano, Enzo De Caro, Filippo Scotti, Lino Musella, Luisa Ranieri, Marina Viro, Marlon Joubert, Massimiliano Gallo, Monica Nappo, Renato Carpentieri, Sofya Gershevich, Teresa Saponangelo, Toni Servillo

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

A dark and existential comedy, Wristcutters: A Love Story follows Zia (Patrick Fugit), a young man who commits suicide, only to find himself in a bleak afterlife filled with other suicide victims. He discovers that his former partner has just joined him in this dreary realm and sets out to find her. From there, the film transitions into a macabre road-trip film as Zia and several acquaintances strike out in a beat-up old car in the name of love and redemption. Based on a short story by award-winning Israeli writer Etgar Karet, Wristcutters is a stunningly original film that will haunt viewers forever.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Abraham Benrubi, Adam Gifford, Amy Seimetz, Azura Skye, Bridget Powers, Cameron Bowen, Chase Ellison, Clayne Crawford, John Hawkes, Leslie Bibb, Mark Boone Junior, Mary Pat Gleason, Mikal P. Lazarev, Nick Offerman, Nils Allen Stewart, Patrick Fugit, Sarah Roemer, Shannyn Sossamon, Shea Whigham, Tom Waits, Will Arnett, Zia Harris

Director: Goran Dukić

Rating: R

If Steven Spielberg had just decided to do a straightforward cover version of West Side Story, it still would have been a wonder of music, movement, and color. But more than the lush camerawork and impassioned performances from Rachel Zegler, Mike Faist, and Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, this adaptation is most memorable for its renewed focus on the senselessness of its central turf war. Here, New York City exercises absolute power over the Jets and the Sharks, rendering all this gang violence as a futile attempt to hold on to outdated values in the face of economic desolation. Spielberg might not be able to do much about the story's weaker Romeo and Juliet-inspired parts, but he still finds a way to let this often ridiculed tragic romance serve a greater purpose.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Ana Isabelle, Andrea Burns, Andy Powers, Annelise Cepero, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, Ben Cook, Bert Michaels, Brian d'Arcy James, Chryssie Whitehead, Corey Stoll, Curtiss Cook, David Alvarez, David Guzman, Denia Brache, iris menas, Jamie Harris, Jamila Velazquez, Jeff Ward, Joe Lanza, José Ramón Rosario, Josh Andrés Rivera, Kevin Csolak, Kyle Allen, Maddie Ziegler, Mike Faist, Mike Massimino, Myles Erlick, Nadia Quinn, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Patrick Noonan, Paul Niebanck, Rachel Zegler, Rene Ojeda, Ricky Garcia, Rita Moreno, Ryan Woodle, Shade Rupe, Talia Ryder, Victor Cruz, Yassmin Alers

Director: Steven Spielberg