TORONTO: Penelope Cruz and ‘Broken Embraces’

Posted by · 12:06 pm · September 12th, 2009

Penelope Cruz in Broken EmbracesWhen did Penelope Cruz become such a great actress? This was a woman  I could barely stand looking at on screen not more than five years ago, yet now she is an absolute delight, with depth, emotion, and the ability to find the truth in her characters, an innate ability that is downright uncanny. God, her work in “Vanilla Sky” was painful and her performance in “Blow” was so shrill and terrible it was the sort of acting I’d label obscene.

Then saw “Volver” and was stunned by her work, blown away, knocked out and forever silenced about her talent. It is not the first time this has happened to me. I regularly attacked Julia Roberts until “Erin Brockovich” and “Closer” and was Joel Schumacher’s biggest detractor until “Tigerland.”  If my love of cinema has given me anything it’s the ability to admit when I am wrong, or when an artist has done something that surprised me enough to admit they possess an unexpected talent.

Cruz was lovely in “Volver” and richly deserving of the Oscar nomination she received, just as she deserved to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress last year for her hell cat in “Vicky Christina Barcelona.”  There was something dark in her work last year for Woody Allen, something dangerous, something terribly sexy. And then to see her in “Elegy?”   It was an entirely different piece of work, equally good, but each of her 2008 performances displayed extraordinary range not seen before. Was the talent always there and the roles just weak? Or is it that Cruz simply grew as an actress?

Whatever the case, I now look forward to seeing her on screen, and her work in “Broken Embraces” (***) is again revelatory, work that should land her in the Best Actress race once again. I am not among those who fall over myself every time Pedro Almodóvar makes a film. I like his work, but I don’t love it. I concede he is a gifted man, among the great directors working today, and always someone who gives us a film worth watching.

Well, he has delivered us a gem with “Broken Embraces,” which is a mystery set in the world of filmmaking — sort of — with a blind writer/director, Mateo (Lluís Homar), leading a double life, brought face to face with his past and Lena (Cruz), a woman he and his producer fell in love with on a past production.  Lena gutted their worlds, tore the men apart, leaving each a wreck in her wake.

Cruz is brilliant, displaying, again, talent I didn’t know was there. A vicious schemer here, she portrays something new here, bringing a freshness to the film, elevating it above an average work. I quite liked Homar’s work as Mateo, who is wonderfully dignified, yet quietly frightened of what is happening to him and his life. As good as Homar is, though, the film belongs to Cruz, who dominates the work with the confidence of the great actress she has become.

→ 17 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

17 responses so far

  • 1 9-12-2009 at 12:19 pm

    JAB said...

    man, could you imagine here being a double nominee the year after winning? it’s looking like it could happen. I’d say her chances with Nine are better than her chances with Broken Embraces.

  • 2 9-12-2009 at 12:20 pm

    davidraider88 said...

    3 of her performances that you liked have one thing in common, she’s speaking Spanish in them. I think she’s a much better actress when she’s speaking Spanish because she is much more comfortable speaking that than English, where I think she tends to be a bit self-conscience during her performances.

  • 3 9-12-2009 at 12:20 pm

    davidraider88 said...


  • 4 9-12-2009 at 12:30 pm

    j said...

    Cruz’s Nine role is the one in the play that has the most awards on Broadway & such, but there is Mo’Nique having been tapped as the favorite since, like…January maybe?

    I think it’d be nice for the lead actress race to have Meryl Streep win over 4 fresh faces…say, Mulligan, Cornish, Ronan, and Sidibe; maybe as a wildcard Tautou who would be fresh to Oscar racing.

  • 5 9-12-2009 at 12:38 pm

    Curtis said...

    I would be very happy if we could drop Meryl Streep’s name from the running. A slight performance that would happily sit next to “Mamma Mia!” as pure entertainment. That being said, J is right; some fresh faces would be nice this year.

  • 6 9-12-2009 at 12:59 pm

    Joy Fountain said...

    Cruz was already a respected actress internationally before she came to Hollywood. You can go way back to her first film “Jamón, Jamón” and 1998’s “La niña de tus ojos”.

    My fave performance of her is from 2004’s Italian film “Non ti muovere”, just astonishing.

  • 7 9-12-2009 at 2:25 pm

    Aaron said...

    Granted, I never saw Blow, but I don’t really get the hatred towards Penelope Cruz in Vanilla Sky. True, she wasn’t great in it, but was anything really that spectacular in the film? I’ve never been one to think that she was a terrible actress, I just thought she chose some absolutely terrible films (All the Pretty Horses, Sahara, Woman on Top, etc.) And, yes, she has grown over the years. Most actors continue to get stronger as they develop their craft further. Charlize Theron never really did it for me until she came out of nowhere with Monster, and now her performances since then have been pretty stellar.

    And p.s. I’m starting to highly doubt Abbie Cornish’s prospects for Bright Star. I don’t see any critic being particularly blown away by her performance. Sadly, I think the buzz for this film peaked at Cannes and hasn’t been progressing, which is entirely the opposite for Broken Embraces, which is growing day by day. I think Cruz might easily find herself a double nominee this year.

  • 8 9-12-2009 at 2:35 pm

    Benito Delicias said...

    I’ve been coming to this blog for years now and I’ve never been as identified with anything as with this post….

    I loathed her before 2006 and then came Volver….I need to see Elegy now.

    Volver was just too much, I would’ve loved a win for her in 06 over Mirren who I supported but as an overdue Oscar more than for the performance.

    Cruz was THE performance of 06…

    As for Broken Embraces, she was incredible in it and the movie is amazing. Like I said before here or at Awards Daily, the fact that she dissapears for a good portion of the second half is going to hurt her.

    I hope people don’t forget about her, because the rest of the movie without her is so SO! good, that Penelope is not necessarily missed. But she is terribly deserving of that nod.

  • 9 9-12-2009 at 2:38 pm

    Andrew said...

    I am not buying that piece of fanboyism.

    Her performance in Broken Embraces wasn’t that good, her character was far from being likeable and I don’t see anything memorable from that film.

    Nine has to be released before saying that she’ll get a nom for it. I can’t believe how the standards for acting have gone so low since all this internet era and self-proclaimed “experts”.

    Someone is taking about “FRESH” faces. I don’t see anything fresh about Penelope Cruz, really. She’s been nominated two times in the last five years and won this year. Is she a “FRESH” face? I don’t think so.

    If you say Emily Blunt, Carey Mulligan or Saoirse Ronan, those are fresh faces indeed. But Cruz? She should take English lessons urgently though.

    Anyway, I agree with the one that said that she’s better in spanish. Oh yeah. She sucks in all her English language films.

  • 10 9-12-2009 at 2:39 pm

    Benito Delicias said...

    Something people should take into consideration is that Penelope grew in her English speaking acting….

    Weird, yes, but it is what it is. The girl could NOT act in English. That’s where she grew, maybe she grew confident that she could actually do it, she lost her nerves, she got comfortable and made some friends and felt at home, whatever, I don’t know. But her main problem has always been her English speaking acting.

    In Spanish she has always been great.

  • 11 9-12-2009 at 3:36 pm

    Danny said...

    I am a big Penelope Cruz fan, and I am very excited to see this film.

    On another note, I agree with your comments about Elegy. It was a fine film that was not seen by many, but Cruz was excellent in her role. By the end of it, I even thought she outshined Ben Kingsley.

  • 12 9-12-2009 at 5:48 pm

    Glenn said...

    There are so many people who are in the same boat re Cruz. I had liked her in Almodovar films like “All About My Mother” as well as Amenabar’s “Open Your Eyes”, but hadn’t been blown away. And then came “Volver”. She should’ve won Best Actress that year (and might have too if it weren’t for Helen Mirren since she had the huge “WOW! She can really act” idea). And then “VCB”, but I actually err on the side “Elegy” being her finest performance. Shockingly it’s the one in English. She absolutely knocked me over with that performance, the first of which doesn’t trade off of her Spanishness (if that makes sense). The scenes after the twist (if you want to call it that) are devastating.

    I am so looking forward to “Nine” and “Embraces” and especially Cruz’s performances within.

    Andrew, yawn. Why do people have to be SO negative? Can’t they just politely disagree (that’s something that certainly doesn’t happen anymore in “this internet era”). John has his opinion and you have yours, but is your opinion the right one and John’s just “fanboyism”. Very tired.

  • 13 9-12-2009 at 9:35 pm

    Mike said...

    The only thing I saw Cruz in before 06 was Sahara and boy that was bad so I guess I just assumed that she was a terrible actress. I’m so glad that she changed my mind.

  • 14 9-13-2009 at 7:19 am

    Andrew said...

    It could be that I am too negative but I can’t see the greatness in Penelope Cruz at all.

  • 15 9-14-2009 at 12:36 am

    jackal said...

    Do you know what happened with the film Manolete with penelope and adrien brody?

  • 16 9-17-2009 at 12:56 pm

    Mika said...

    Penélope has been great in Spanish and European films. You should see NON TI MUOVERE, her best performance ever. And her 2 first films are great “Jamón, Jamón” and ” BELLE ÉPOQUE” (oscar best foreign film)

  • 17 9-17-2009 at 3:09 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I love her. I seriously do. Every time she was on screen during Broken Embraces the movie lit up a whole lot.
    The film was fine but a bit forced, especially towards the end where very little of the revelations seemed to be flowing naturally from the plot or the characters. Enjoyable nonetheless. Especially the bit where Penelope…