Penélope Cruz

The Cruz of Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a cypher—damaged, brilliant; a maniac and romantic whose every word is either a spit in your face or an evocation of renewed love. As María Elena, the itinerant lover and ex-wife of painter Juan Antonio, she is both an explosion of the stereotype of the unstable romantic and the logical extension of Cruz’ young Silvia in Jamón Jamón; always balanced on the precipice between composure and passion.

Whether in Vicky Cristina Barcelona or in her three most recent turns with Almodóvar—Volver, Los Abrazos Rotos, and her small part in Los amantes pasajeros—the best Cruz characters all bank on her complete mystery as a performer. She’s at her strongest when our perspective is that of an outsider looking in, or an ex-lover peering into the past. Los Abrazos Rotos is a sort of reimagining of Preminger’s Laura, like many other great films. Even moreso than Laura Hunt, Cruz’ Lena is a complete puzzle. Her portrait is constructed entirely out of the way other people perceive her, and as such there’s always a piece missing: a fragment of her personality obscured, so that her motives remain refreshingly unpredictable.

In her comedic turns, like the cameo role at the start of Los amantes pasajeros, Cruz enters into the world fully formed, often a trigger for the narrative, like Anna Faris in Lost in Translation. The anarchic nature of her very being—of entering and disrupting a narrative (in this case a romance between the titular Cristina and Juan Antonio, not only leading to a reconciliation and shared love affair, but, ultimately, to further disaster) and then vanishing without a resolution to her story. And though this performance trope is much larger Cruz herself, it takes a truly talented performer to pull it off as monumentally and effortlessly as she does here.

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