With ‘Parallel Mothers,’ Composer Alberto Iglesias Scores Again for Pedro Almodóvar

“Parallel Mothers” is Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias’ 13th film for director Pedro Almodóvar and, says Iglesias, “the best experience working for him” to date.

The Madrid-based composer is a three-time Oscar nominee, but none of those films (“The Constant Gardener,” “The Kite Runner,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) were by Almodóvar, his filmmaking partner since 1995.

He has six Goya Awards, Spain’s equivalent of the Oscar, for Almodóvar films, including art-house hits “All About My Mother,” “Talk to Her,” “Volver,” “Broken Embraces,” “The Skin I Live In” and “Pain and Glory.” He was nominated for a Golden Globe Monday for his “Parallel Mothers” score.

“Parallel Mothers” concerns two first-time single mothers, one middle-aged (Penelope Cruz) and excited, the other (Milena Smit) young and nervous. Their lives are intertwined from the time they meet in a hospital, and a subplot about unearthing Spanish Civil War graves eventually figures in the story as well.

“I followed this idea of parallelism in the structure of the music,” Iglesias tells Variety. “I didn’t give each character a theme; they were two but they were one at the same time.”

Although Almodóvar routinely gives him a script to read, the composer prefers to wait until he’s seen a cut of the film before committing himself to strong musical ideas. And in this case he began with the film’s most intense moment: as Cruz’s character learns the truth about her baby.

“This was the soul of the movie,” he says. “I followed the breathing of the actress; it was a guide for me, full of close-ups. I oriented the music to the suspense of this scene, and that gave me possibilities for other scenes.”

Much of his score was written for string orchestra, “seven voices in complex harmonies, but at the same time transparent,” he explains. A small chamber ensemble seemed more appropriate for the early birth scenes – “the idea of life, of vital force,” he adds. Piano and a small complement of woodwinds rounded out his 49-piece ensemble at London’s Air studios.

The music for the film’s finale, which takes place at the graveyard and involves all of the principals, was actually introduced earlier in the film, “when they are at home, this idea of spiritual connections, preparing this idea of death and life – so it’s, again, the parallelism of the film.”

Almodóvar visited the composer every Sunday at his home for two months. “He comes over, we have tea together, he starts talking and I show him the music,” Iglesias reports.

Asked about their 13-flim, 26-year relationship, Iglesias says: “It’s my life. We have shared so many difficult, great moments. He has been a kind of master for me. He’s not a musician, but he always asks me to dodge conventions, find my own way, my own melodic ideas.

“He sees me as an artist. Sometimes he says, ‘Surprise me with something.’ It’s very good for a composer to have this kind of relationship with a director, because you have to put everything you have in your head, your soul, into the film. But you work for the film, not for him.”

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