“You cannot live your life looking at yourself from someone else’s point of view.” – Penélope Cruz
Actress, model, philanthropist and charity worker, Penélope Cruz is an icon of Spanish cinema who became an international sensation throughout the beginning of the 21st century. Known for her acting range, appearing in various eclectic roles throughout her celebrated career, Cruz has gained a band of loyal supporters, particularly following her roles in the films of Pedro Almodóvar, which catapulted her to popular knowledge.
From Volver, to Broken Embraces, to I’m So Excited, each new step she took with the decorated Spanish filmmaker revealed a side of the actress that no one had previously seen. This allowed her to slowly transition into Hollywood filmmaking, appearing alongside Matt Damon in Billy Bob Thornton’s All the Pretty Horses for one of her first significant mainstream roles. Initially struggling to transfer the gravity of her performance to her English-speaking roles, she quickly grasped the language and went on to work alongside fellow filmmaking giants including Woody Allen and Ridley Scott.
Let’s take a look back at her 30-year long career…
Penélope Cruz’s six definitive films:
Jamón Jamón (Bigas Luna, 1992)
Appearing alongside her later husband and fellow Spanish icon Javier Bardem in only his fourth film role, Cruz would benefit from Bardem’s rising popularity as a sex symbol, and Jamón Jamón would spark her career into life.
At just 18-years-old, Cruz played Silvia, a liberated young woman who engages in a love triangle between Jose (Jordi Mollà) and Raul (Javier Bardem) a man hired by Jose’s own mother to prise her son away from Silvia. Translating into “Ham, Ham”, the film is an enchanting romantic comedy made dazzling with help from both Bardem and Cruz’s provocative performances.
All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999)
Cruz’s second feature film with Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar following 1997’s Live Flesh, All About My Mother is celebrated as one of the director’s finest films, marking a significant moment in the career of Penélope Cruz that was ready to skyrocket.
Winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1999, Cruz plays a supporting role as a young nun who is HIV positive working at a shelter for sex workers. It’s a role entwined with the central story following Esteban (Eloy Azorín), a young boy in search of the identity of his second mother, a trans woman whose past has been concealed. This breathtaking and highly progressive film from Almodóvar shows Cruz as a loveable and totally heartbreaking character who would grip the attention of audiences worldwide.
Vanilla Sky (Cameron Crowe, 2001)
In 2001 Penélope Cruz’s career would come full circle when her own 1997 film, Open Your Eyes, was adapted for Hollywood audiences, reappearing as Sofia but this time face-to-face with movie icon Tom Cruise.
The bizarrely named film follows David Aames (Tom Cruise), a vain, privileged man who becomes disfigured in a car crash after his jealous girlfriend drives the car off road in response to his newfound love (Penélope Cruz). In her first major Hollywood blockbuster, Cruz stood up the acting credentials of her co-stars, delivering an enchanting performance that displayed some genuine chemistry between herself and Cruise.
Volver (Pedro Almodóvar, 2006)
Departing from Pedro Almodóvar for half a decade in Hollywood, Penélope Cruz enjoyed commercial success with Blow, Gothika and Sahara before reteaming with the director in 2006. As successful as these films had been in the box office, they had not been critically successful, but Volver was to change all that…
Likely her most famous screen role, Cruz’s third collaboration with the Spanish director shows the actress in the leading role as Raimunda, a mother protecting her young child during a tumultuous time where the ghost of her own mother revisits her. It’s a wonderful tragic-comedy which Cruz leads with full force, rewarded for her efforts with a win for Best Actress at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and a nomination for leading actress for the Oscars of the same year.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, 2008)
In a truly inviting ensemble cast of Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, and husband Javier Bardem, for their first film together since Jamón Jamón, Penélope Cruz would pick up her converted Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress.
Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona features Cruz as the ex-wife of a Spanish painter (Javier Bardem) who becomes entangled in a ‘love-square’ between her previous love and two friends on a summer holiday who fall for the painter themselves. Cruz’s explosive performance brims with volatile passion as she brings vim and vigour to the provocative rom-com, impressively acting in both Spanish and English throughout the film.
Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar, 2019)
In the decade between Vicky Christina Barcelona and Pain and Glory, Penélope Cruz starred in everything from blockbuster titans like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, to arthouse crime thrillers in The Counsellor, but nothing could quite recreate her success of her close partnership with director Pedro Almodóvar.
Nominated for Best International Feature Film at the 2020 Academy Awards, the film follows a man forced to reflect on his past choices when ghosts of his past begin to mingle and collapse around him. Certainly one of Almodóvar’s more dark and pensive films, Cruz plays the protagonist’s young mother and is completely captivating in the supporting role, helping to recreate the poignant memories of the character with charm and emotional heart.
With a fondness for rich character-driven dramas, Penélope Cruz has carved out a highly successful career with many more promising ventures to come, from a collaboration with Todd Solondz to yet another team-up with Pedro Almodóvar. Whatever the role, the ever-endearing Cruz will prove enchanting…