Monday, February 09, 2009

Spanish Enchantress

I have a friend who claims that she thinks that Penelope Cruz is not attractive. Quite ugly, this friend of mine says, if you really examine her. I have no fucking idea what she's looking at. Cruz is, to me, unquestionably one of the most beautiful women in the world. And part of her appeal is the fluidity of her looks. She can have an innocent, almost sprightly appeal at times with her doe eyes and thin frame. Just as easily, she can put a glint in her eye and pout in her lips and project formidable strength. And, of course, probably most popular with the fellows is effortless way she can use her curves and become a total bombshell.

The problem with Penelope, as I see it, at least, is that American filmmakers just haven't yet found a way to exploit her talents the way that European ones have. She is currently Oscar nominated for her role in Vicky Christina Barcelona, but, sadly, I don't think this film is an exception to the American/European Penelope rule, though I do wish her well with the award.

Now, you know me. You know I'm not some sort of foreign film snob. I just love movies. So when I tell you that Volver and Non Ti Muovere and Sin Noticias de Dios and Todo Sobre Mi Madre are flicks worth seeing, I'm not shoveling some esoteric ennui upon you. Okay, some of them may have a touch of that, but not too much.

Cruz was already becoming the first lady of Spanish cinema by the time she filmed 1997's Abre Los Ojos, which was later re-made as the muddled, American Vanilla Sky. But she rose to international fame with her role in Pedro Almodovar's Todo Sobre Mi Madre just a couple years later, and then, the US came calling with Woman on Top, a quirky little comedy about a woman whose severe motion sickness has ill effects on her marriage, and then Billy Bob's All the Pretty Horses. Luckily for movie lovers, she works a lot, and she went back to Spanish cinema for 2001's Sin Noticias de Dios, known here in the States as Don't Tempt Me. In this flick, Heaven and Hell enter a tug of war over the soul of a boxer, so each sends a representative to vie for his fate. Penelope was Hell's ambassador, and to say much more about her role would give away some of delightful twists. But it really is a great vehicle to showcase the sexy-yet-stunningly tough Cruz in action in a fast and fun film that has enough offhanded charm to please an angel or demon.

In 2004, she learned Italian and professed her love for Italian life and won the role of Italia, a dark and depressing role about a damaged woman in Non Ti Muovere (Don't Move or, sometimes, Don't Look Now in English.) In other words, she got to show her dramatic chops to critics and audiences who aren't as wowed with the lighter touch. It is a difficult role in a different movie, but it also probably falls over that line of "esoteric foreign" if you're inclined to have those prejudices.

Unlike so many actresses --particularly those of great beauty-- who make an early, substantial mark and then spend the rest of their career never really capturing those same heights, Cruz has, so far, only managed to get better. I refer, of course, to 2006 and her reunion with the celebrated Almodovar for the popular Volver. Though generally not considered his best film, it still bears all his signature touches in this strange, sad, and funny movie. This is a movie ruled by women, and Penelope is its center -- at once controlled and yet wildly vibrant; full of life and strength and subtle surprises. She's known as the Spanish Enchantress, and in Volver, she's absolutely that and more. Maybe, like my weirdo friend, you don't find her physically attractive, but you'd still fall absolutely in love with her in this movie.


Anonymous said...

My mother and I had this same difference of opinion. When Cruz and Cruise were an item, my mother felt Kidman was beautiful. Much better looking than Penelope. I of course am enchanted with Penelope's face. I kind of fell in love with her in Vanilla Sky. Not just for her face either. Loved her in Volver. I barely remember All The Pretty Horses. And I've seen her in a few other fliks which escape me right now. Does she deserve an oscar or even a nom for Vicky Christina? No. The actress who played Vicky does. I think Penelope will continue to search out those roles which expand her chops. Or at least I hope she's lucky enough to find those needles in haystacks.

SusanD said...

Anon -- if you dig her, you really should check out those couple of Spanish flicks I mentioned. "Don't Tempt Me" and "Don't Look Now." Worth it. for sure.