Is there a sexier, more talented couple than Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem? The married actors have done nine movies together — several before they were a couple — and their chemistry positively radiates off the screen. Now, in EVERYBODY KNOWS, from celebrated Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, the duo plays former lovers whose reunion brings all sorts of long-repressed issues out into the open.
The best thing about Cruz and Bardem is their unpredictability. Whether working together or apart, these actors don’t make the same films over and over — they constantly explore new material with different filmmakers. Since EVERYBODY KNOWS is about to land in theatres on February 8, let’s revisit a few highlights of their on-screen partnership.
Penélope Cruz was only 18 when she played the lead role in her first feature film. At 22, Bardem did not have a lot more experience. He had only played a small role in one movie, THE AGES OF LULU. That film’s director, Bigas Luna, smartly recruited Bardem for JAMÓN, JAMÓN.
This movie is wild. Maybe the title, which literally means “Ham Ham,” made that obvious. There are plenty of scenes linking food to desire, sex and history. Cruz and Bardem are at the center of it all, and the fire in their eyes is bright enough to light a city. (Oops, maybe we just made you want to see this movie?) It’s a lurid, overheated melodrama with grand aspirations about turning love and food and sex into a reflection of Spanish culture, and it kind of works! We don’t see this sort of movie anymore, and that’s worth celebrating.
We’re going to cheat here, but since movies don’t have to play by any rules, neither will we. Pedro Almodovar’s movies are to Spanish actors what “Harry Potter” was for British thespians. Eventually, everyone comes to play. Penélope Cruz is only in the opening scene of Almodovar’s 12th film, while Bardem plays one of the leads. They don’t even get to work together, though Cruz does share a scene with Bardem’s mother, Pilar Bardem.
Cruz’s character opens LIVE FLESH by giving birth on a bus. Decades later, the child, Victor (Liberto Rabal), becomes ensnared in a web of desire and violence with two cops (one played by Bardem) and their wives. It’s a surprising, rich movie — a morality play in which everyone is constantly hopeful for redemption. The performances are big and the moral symbolism even bigger.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
More than a decade after JAMÓN, JAMÓN, each actor had a true star-making movie. (It was Almodovar’s VOLVER for Cruz, and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN for Bardem.) Then, they got back together on screen for Woody Allen’s film about conflicting romantic impulses, and the result is the couple’s standout movie.
Bardem plays Juan Antonio, an artist still in a turbulent relationship with his ex-wife, Maria (Cruz). When Juan Antonio meets American visitors Vicky and Cristina (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson), the stage is set for an Almodovar-level tangle of sexual experimentation and unconventional relationships under Spain’s golden sunshine. While Cruz and Bardem’s characters are unstable, even damaged, their performances are nuanced and compelling. They’re so captivating, it’s no wonder two tourists are seduced.
See Cruz and Bardem in EVERYBODY KNOWS on February 8!