Page last updated at 07:10 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 08:10 UK

Almodovar's love affair with Cruz

By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Penelope Cruz in Broken Embraces, and with Pedro Almodovar
Cruz plays an actress in Broken Embraces, which she took to Cannes with Almodovar earlier this year

Oscar-winning film director Pedro Almodovar is renowned for putting women at the heart of his movies.

His new release Broken Embraces, an intense tale of passion and tragedy, is no exception.

Actress Penelope Cruz returns as the Spaniard's leading lady after her gritty performance in 2006 film Volver, which gained her an Academy Award nomination.

In a complicated narrative of entwined relationships, she plays Lena, who becomes an actress worshipped by director Mateo Blanco.

The 35-year-old possesses the screen in almost every frame she appears in, and has a magnetism that is hard to resist.

'Utter genius'

Almodovar admits the pair have cultivated a special relationship, which looks likely to colour his film-making for some time yet.

"She brings to me a great sense of security because of her blind faith in me. She trusts me so much," says Almodovar, mostly through an interpreter but occasionally breaking into English.

"She sees me as an utter genius which is not the way I see myself at all. It's embarrassing when I listen to her!

Penelope Cruz in Volver
Live Flesh - 1997
All About My Mother - 1999
Volver (pictured) - 2006
Broken Embraces - 2009

"It gives you a lot of strength having an actress who you know will do absolutely anything you ask her to do," he explains.

Since Cruz's first appearance in an Almodovar movie 12 years ago, Cruz has become an international star and Hollywood presence.

But Almodovar regards her latest role as a kind of homecoming, with his films best suited to bringing out her strengths as an actress.

"I give her the characters she couldn't find in the US. They are very complex, risky, challenging - and she loves a challenge," says the film-maker.

"Life for Penelope has changed enormously and she's been extremely successful, but I don't think that's changed her approach to her roles and the way she works in any way.

"Certainly with me, she works in the same way she always did," adds the 59-year-old, who emphatically confirms he will work with her again.

The screen star, meanwhile, has always spoken of her mentor with great warmth and respect, recently saying that he is "part of my life and career".

Pregnant nuns

Almodovar, also credited with writing Broken Embraces, calls it "the most complex movie I've ever made", adding that he had to draw on the experience of his 16 previous pictures.

The film is partly about the making of a movie and is his "natural" homage to cinema with nods to Hitchcock and to his own works, including Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Some critics have said it lacks the spicy punch of his past films, with topics ranging from pregnant nuns and transvestites to homosexual awakenings.

But Almodovar, who avoids watching his films after their release, says he "doesn't think about other people's opinions" and has mellowed in his approach.

"I never set out to be shocking. That's what Lars Von Trier does, that's what Madonna does. Scandal is in the eye of the beholder.

Blanca Portillo in Broken Embraces
Blanca Portillo (centre) is another member of Almodovar's 'family'

"I've been making movies for 30 years and probably the way I feel now is less shocking - that's only natural," he explains.

The film-maker adds that we are living in times of "huge scandal", but does not feel cinema is generating controversy anymore.

While times may be shifting, there are other constants about Almodovar's cinematic approach, including performers who make regular appearances in his films.

Alongside his beautiful leading ladies are a supporting cast of striking character actresses, which he puts down to being surrounded by women when he was growing up.

"And it's purely practical, when you've worked with someone before and understand them. It's nice to feel like a family," he says.

Almodovar commands the respect of Hollywood and Cannes alike but says he has one regret about his good fortune.

He has to live in a "comfortable, pricey" area of Madrid, but would really rather live in a more ordinary, vibrant neighbourhood of the city - all in the name of fuelling his life's work.

Broken Embraces opens across the UK on 28 August.

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