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In writer/director Pedro Almodóvar's (Bad Education) new comedy, three generations of women survive wind, fire and even death, thanks to goodness, audacity and a limitless vitality. Abuela (Carmen Maura) may have died in a house fire, but that doesn't stop her from returning home to fix the problems she couldn't resolve while she was alive. When the initial shock has worn off, her ghost becomes a comfort to her daughters Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) and Sole (Lola Dueñas), as well as her grandchild Paula (Yohana Cobo). The living and the dead coexist with little discord, causing situations that are both hilarious and filled with deep, genuine emotion.


From the video clip she made with the Spanish music group Mecano, with the worst possible ’80s look, to Ralph Lauren’s sophisticated image, or the housewife in Volver, where she has wonderfully disheveled hairstyles, a lot has happened and there have been many hairdressers in Penélope’s life. Some lovers, too, almost all of them handsome and outstanding, several awards, and one of the most brilliant careers of any European actress.

Penélope has become sophisticated. Her neck has grown longer, her lips (genuine) are a catalog model for plastic surgery clinics. Her eyes, isolated from the rest of her body, are identical to Audrey Hepburn’s. Her cleavage (genuine breasts, I swear) is one of her great assets because, despite the refinement, Penélope has been at her best in cinema in “maggiorata” roles, with a “divento matta” hairstyle. Her best performances have been the very plebeian, spunky characters in Carne trémula (Live Flesh), Blow (by Ted Demme, I know that the film isn’t good but Penélope as a trashy, hysterical Colombian cocaine addict is splendid), Non ti muovere (Don’t Move) and Volver.

I haven’t mentioned Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother), of which I am very proud, because her role in that was much more delicate. That’s another one of Penélope’s points—her spirituality—but this isn’t the place to talk about it.

I thank a God (in which I don’t believe) for giving me the opportunity to work with Penélope again. I swear that every one of her appearances in Volver (and she is in almost all the scenes) is a miracle. For me, she is the new Sophia Loren, the one in the ’50s, when she was selling fish in the Neapolitan markets. She is more beautiful than ever, with more dramatic strength than ever, and with a fragility, always about to explode, that makes Raimunda (that’s the name of her character) her most complete and admirable work. What’s more, I love her.

I met Carmen Maura in ’78, when she was already a star. We were appearing in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Les Mains Sales in the theater. She was the leading actress and I the trainee. I didn’t like doing theater, I didn’t like the actors’ tones, which were old fashioned and pompous, except for Carmen’s. She talked in a different way, she moved in a different way, she looked in a different way. She was real, natural, without emphasis. I never admired her so much. I was already working in Super-8 and for me that experience was a lesson in acting. That was how I wanted the actresses in my films to act, if I ever managed to direct one day.

Along with that kind of naivety, which she hasn’t lost with the passing of time, Carmen had good intuition and was an actress with a rather atypical profile. From the first moment we interested each other. In me, it was normal. What was odd was that she agreed to work in my Super-8s, given that she was already the star in a real theater. I didn’t know that I had talent (I was only aware of my unlimited vocation), but Carmen didn’t have the slightest doubt. I’m saying this with the greatest possible simplicity and with all my gratitude to her.