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.