Film history has given us a myriad of directors who play favorites, who channel their visions through an actor, using them as their vessel.
Think John Ford and John Wayne, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. In the case of beloved Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, it’s beyond a shred of doubt the lovely Penelope Cruz.
Cruz has been the director’s muse since he first cast her in his 1997 film Live Flesh and has since continued to use her as his female counterpart in gorgeous, sensual and eccentric works like 1999’s All About My Mother and 2006’s Volver.
His latest is the multilayered romantic tragedy/film noir Broken Embraces, a picture that exemplifies their mutual maturation as artists.
“Our relationship keeps changing and evolving,” said the actress. “It gets to the point where we often know what the other one is thinking.”
Broken Embraces sees Cruz essaying the role of Lena, a failed actress who is manipulated into marrying a lecherous millionaire before she is “rescued” by a dashing film director (Lluis Homar).
When their professional relationship slips into a passionate sexual and emotional love affair, jealousy and eventually murder rear their hideous heads. Ultimately, however, with his love for classic Hollywood melodrama and specifically 1950’s All About Eve, this is really just a film about Almodovar’s love of film.
“I think of (Lena) as three women in one,” Cruz explains, referencing the multitude of personas and visages her character adopts, including that of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. “I see the film as an homage to some of the people in cinema that Pedro admires the most.”
This is easily Cruz’s best performance to date. And it’s a given that she’d work for her director again – and again – at a moment’s notice.
“He’s had me as a whore giving birth on a bus, as a nun who gets pregnant from a transsexual. He’s a genius and when he calls, I drop everything for him. It’s a natural fit.”