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Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz: compare and contrast

Spain's biggest acting couple have got married. But this writer believes Bardem alone deserves all the plaudits.

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Penélope Cruz's role in 'Volver' gave her an Oscar nomination. Photo: dou_ble_you.

Having appeared in several films together dating back to the beginnings of their careers in the early 1990s, and being the first Spanish actors to be nominated for Oscars, then the first to win the coveted statuette, there seemed a certain inevitability about Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz’s announcement in July that they had finally got married.

Needless to say, the media made great play of two Academy Award winners tying the knot: as more than one story trumpeted, it’s a “marriage made in Oscar heaven.” For the domestic press this was yet another example of Spain’s international success, —somewhat overshadowed by the World Cup, it has to be said— while for the rest of the world there was a certain exotic appeal about the story.

Given their achievements, the English-language news highlighted the pair’s acting abilities, inevitably equating their respective Oscars as the ultimate arbiter of success.

I’ve watched many of this star-crossed couple’s films over the last two decades, and while the chameleonic Bardem’s performances just keep getting better, I have to confess to having long been puzzled by the acclaim enjoyed by Penélope Cruz in the British and US media.

Surely somebody else out there shares my predicament, I thought, so I decided to search the internet for articles critical of the film performances of ‘Pe’.

Among the keywords and phrases I tried next to Pe’s name were “bad actress”, “wooden performance”, “one-dimensional”, “histrionic”, and “extremely limited range”: nothing.

Instead, the web is filled with stories that testify to her unique talent and acting ability.

What’s more, it has to be said, Cruz’s success has little to do with her on-screen and off-screen associations with Bardem. This is somebody who was determined to make it from the get go.

Looking over her career, what, I asked myself, were the standout moments? The actress first came to public attention, as did Bardem, through Bigas Luna’s 1992 Jamón Jamón, where at the tender age of 16 she played, well, a pouting, 16-year-old sexpot.

She then went on to appear in Belle Epoque, which won a Best Foreign Film Oscar, playing, well, a pouting sexpot.

By then, she had managed to catch the attention of Pedro Almodóvar, who was looking for a new, well, pouting sexpot after parting company with Victoria Abril and Carmen Maura.

It’s probably fair to say that, although she is tenaciously ambitious, Pe wouldn’t have an Oscar atop her fireplace were it not for Almodóvar.

In praising her work, most film writers prefer to skip Cruz’s Hollywood period, during which she was typecast as a, well, sultry sexpot alongside Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey, among other leading men.

Despite her lengthy period in the United States, Pe, unlike Bardem, seems not to have learned to speak English properly. This might explain the somewhat limited roles she has been given, or it might be that without a director like Almodóvar —who regards actors as slaves to whom lines must be given first hand, on set, and repeated ad nauseum there until the poor things have no clue what is going on or what they are really saying— there just isn’t much about Pe to grab the attention of viewers, especially when they can barely understand what she is saying half the time.

A couple of years ago, Almodóvar commented mischievously that Cruz had been “unlucky” with her work in the United States. In a subsequent interview, she interpreted her Svengali’s words as meaning: “that I had more to give as an actress, that I could have done work that was more demanding at an emotional level.” Right.

Back in Spain, and once more under Almodóvar’s wing, Pe won an Oscar nomination for her emotionally demanding role in Volver, and was once more garnering international acclaim.

Woody Allen couldn’t resist the chance to pair Bardem and Cruz in his pot-boiler Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona. He must be reconciled to never winning an Oscar by now, and while even he must regard the film as at best slight, I’ll bet he was as surprised as I was when Cruz won an Oscar for a performance it would be polite to describe as clichéd.  When I saw the film, for the first few minutes I genuinely thought that the Latina histrionics were an in-joke and that any moment she would start behaving like a real person.

Since then, she has worked on another Almódovar film, Broken Embraces. There is an unintentionally hilarious moment in the post-modern, documentary-style opening minutes when Cruz, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the technicians on set, and with her leading man standing by her side, is caught unawares by the camera, seemingly lost in thought. Almodóvar slyly comments off-screen: “In the next scene she’ll have to cry, and I guess she’s getting in touch with her personal store of grief.” It would be nice to think that she was going over those Hollywood years, but this is somebody who takes themselves, and their success, too seriously for that, despite her upcoming role in Pirates of the Caribbean 4.

While her husband has been building up an extraordinary body of work, in all probability, Cruz would find little to cry about remembering her performances over the last two decades: when all is said and done, the joke is on us.





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Published: Aug 23 2010
Category: Uncategorized
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=1251
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4 Comments for “Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz: compare and contrast”

  1. El que ha escrito este artículo realmente odia a Penélope Cruz.Las cosas se pueden decir desde un punto de vista más objetivo no desde el odio.

  2. Well as pouting sexpots go, I would rather watch her than any of thosee blonde American bimbos who all look the same to me.

    She has the most amazing expressive eyes, and these speak more than a thousand words.

  3. Artículo completamente ridículo, de vergüenza ajena. Nick Lyne desconoce totalmente la carrera de Penélope Cruz y hace una valoración totalmente partidista y subjetiva. Algo que, por otro lado, se podría hacer de cualquier otro actor. Absurdo.

  4. ANTIBELENESTEBAN

    QUE RAZON TIENE QUIEN HAYA ESCRITO ESTE ARTICULO, SIGUE SIN GUSTARME COMO ACTRIZ, NUNCA ME GUSTO, SU INGLES ES PESIMO, PARECE QUE TIENE UNA PATATA EN LA BOCA CUANDO HABLA SOY INPAZ DE ORIRLA, LO PASO MAL…MIRA QUE LO INTENTO, TIENE CARA DE PATO Y VOZ DE PITO….POR SUPUESTO HA LLEGADO TAN ALTO, POR SALTAR DE CAMA EN CAMA, Y POR BAJARLA A VER TODOS LOS SANTOS, ENTRE ELLOS ALMODOVAR…POR CIERTO BARDEM SI ME PARECE UN ACTOR 10.

    A ESTA YA SE LA ACABARA EL CHOLLO, ESPERO QUE PRONTO

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