Tag Archives: penelope cruz

Las mujeres de Almodóvar : Chus Lampreave

I was going to start this post off by saying that I’ve been in a real Almodóvar-watching mood recently, but that would be a ridiculous thing to say because I’m always in the mood for watching his films.

More accurately, I’ve been in the mood for rewatching some of my favorite films by him, including Volver, Oscar winner Hable con ella (Talk to Her), and Oscar nominee Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). And if you haven’t seen any of those, please rush out and do so immediately.

Almodóvar’s films always have a few elements in common: humor, passion, bright colors, Madrid, men who make bad decisions, and women who have to deal with the repercussions of those bad decisions. But it’s not just themes that pop up over and over in his work. Actors also often appear regularly in his productions—he started the careers of Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas after all. But one of my favorite character actors who appears in almost every Almodóvar film, including the three I’ve rewatched most recently, is Chus Lampreave.

Lampreave is a veteran Spanish actress whose career dates back to the 1950s, including extensive work in Spanish television, and who usually shows up in an Almodóvar film as some batty landlord or crazed relative. I first saw her in Mujeres al borde 10 years ago; she plays a stubborn Jehovah’s Witness who refuses to lie for the philandering Iván in that movie. I’ve kept a keen eye out for her ever since. And in my opinion, one of her best roles is as tía Paula in Volver.

Lola Dueñas, Penélope Cruz, Yohana Cobo, and Chus Lampreave in "Volver"

Paula is a nutty old aunt to sisters Penélope Cruz and Lola Dueñas (another Almodóvar regular who kills it in everything she does) who lives in a small village in La Mancha—a town whose inhabitants suffer from chronic insanity caused by strong winds. It’s a classic Lampreave role in a Almodóvar picture: old, stubborn woman who is out of her mind. Paula has been talking to the ghost of the sisters’ mother lately. It’s probably just the wind, but of course…you should see the movie yourself! Lampreave’s character isn’t in much of the movie, but for the few scenes she has, she absolutely steals the show. That’s saying a lot when she’s sharing the screen with Penélope Cruz, an actress who garnered an Oscar nomination for her role in the film.

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Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos) : a film by Pedro Almodóvar

I finally got my wish the other day and saw Los abrazos rotos. While it’s not the perfect success of Almodóvar’s last film with Penélope Cruz—the Cannes darling Volver—, it delighted this viewer just as everything else produced by the Spanish director has.

Almodóvar draws inspiration from Hitchcock with the film. Los abrazos rotos is a stylish thriller with a story that unravels as the viewer travels back and forth in time. We start in the present with a blind Spanish screenwriter named “Harry Caine,” who is cared for meticulously by his agent Judit and her son Diego. But a visit from the son of an old business associate of Caine’s sends the film tumbling back into the sordid events of the 1990s. Caine was still Mateo Blanco then, an up-and-coming film director working on Chicas y maletas (Women and Suitcases), which happens to be remarkably similar to Almodóvar’s own film Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown)—a movie everyone should see. In fact, the same set is used for Chicas y maletas as Almodóvar used in Mujeres.

Blanco’s film consumes him, particularly because of its star Lena Rivas (Cruz). On film, she’s a plucky Audrey Hepburn look-a-like. In real life, she’s a woman trapped by the repercussions of her difficult decisions in life. Rivas is the mistress of Ernesto Martel, a businessman who produces Blanco’s movie and who’s son shows up at Harry Caine’s apartment years later. Blanco is infatuated with Rivas. And the tensions between Blanco and Martel, a jealous and controlling lover, quickly escalate and are heightened by the presence of Martel’s son, a burgeoning director himself who is filming a documentary about the making of Chicas y maletas. Martel Jr.’s raw footage is viewed daily by the paranoid and manipulative Martel Sr., who goes as far as to hire a lipreader to decipher the conversations between Rivas and Blanco that happen behind the camera.

How does Blanco go blind? Why does he call himself Harry Caine? What becomes of Rivas? Why does Junior come calling on Caine/Blanco years later? Well, you’re just going to have to watch the film and follow the circuitous route to those answers yourself.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona : a film by Woody Allen

I feel like I start many of my posts by saying, “I don’t generally care for…” Well, I generally don’t care for Woody Allen’s films, at least those from the mid-80s on. Though I should admit that I was once a huge lover of his work from the 70s, particularly Manhattan. That film has such lush and powerful images of New York that the city itself is basically a protagonist in the film. The same is true for Barcelona in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which is easily the best Woody Allen film I’ve seen in years. I enjoyed it so much that I now regret not having seen it on the big screen when it was first released.

On the face of it, the film is about two young American women spending a summer in Cataluña before getting married (in the case of one) or getting on with figuring out what to do next in life (in the case of the other). The women, the eponymous Vicky and Cristina, meet a fiery Spanish painter (Javier Bardem) who tries to romance and seduce them with a trip to Olviedo. All the while, a wonderful Spanish soundtrack plays in the background and the golden lighting of Spain’s sunshine emits the country’s warmth to the viewer.

While the film is categorized as a romantic comedy, I found the work mostly about passion and art. And I can’t believe I just wrote that because normally such a sentence would make me groan. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is practical, yet she’s obsessed with the energy and serendipity of Cataluña. Juan Antonio (Bardem’s painter) is the embodiment of such qualities for her, and she finds her passionate attraction to him disquieting and confusing. Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), on the other hand, already lives on the fly. She actually finds the stability of a romance, albeit a three-way one, to be an enticing forbidden fruit. Meanwhile, she also finds new expression in photography. But her Achilles’ heel of dissatisfaction always looms on the horizon. And then there’s Juan Antonio’s ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz) who is nothing but passion and artistic expression. In the past, she tried to kill Juan Antonio because of her intense feelings. Now she steps back into his life when he’s in the middle of a new romance. Cruz’ facial expressions in the film are worth a thousand Oscars alone. And have fun practicing your Spanish skills while listening to her mostly improvised dialog with Bardem.

The film also rekindled my appreciation for Allen’s humor. In particular, I keep running my favorite scene from the film over and over in my head. In it, Juan Antonio explains the philosophy of his father Julio Josep (Josep Maria Domènech) to Vicky. Julio Josep is a crusty Spanish poet who refuses to publish his work because he hates the world. By withholding such beautiful words from people, he’s punishing this place that he hates. I had no idea that poets had such power!