The first time that Penélope Cruz and Blanca Portillo met was in the Yeserías prison. They were not in prison, nor were they visiting any imprisoned relative: it was their first joint work, between red, by Azucena Rodriguez. The year was 1994 and Rodríguez, who had spent time in prison for his opposition to Francoism in the last years of the regime, decided to portray his own story, but far from wallowing in suffering, he filled his film with tenderness and humor . In the first sequence that both share, the newly arrived Lucía (Cruz) contemplates Manuela (Portillo) entering the prison dining room like a hurricane. Manuela climbs on top of the table where the rest of the inmates are eating, she rips open the red dress that she is wearing and shows her companions her completely naked body. Lucía looks at her in surprise until Manuela explains: she is going to marry a prisoner from Carabanchel that very day and has arranged her dress so that she can pull it off in the face to face “I’m going to get laid for each one of you. Sixteen?”. “No, seventeen”, corrects one of them in reference to Lucía.
between red It was also the debut of Blanca Portillo (Madrid, 58 years old) in the cinema, although she was far from being a novice in acting. She had been living from the theater for a decade, where she premiered in a Blood Wedding Directed by José Luis Gómez. At 20 years old, the actress had a formal boyfriend and plans to get married, but on her return from the tour the only commitment she wanted to assume was with the theater. TO Blood Wedding they followed The malady of youth; Lope de Aguirre, traitor; Hecuba; The bald singer; The Trojans; Winter’s Tale; Marat-Sade, Oleanna… The collection of theatrical classics that he chained together showed that the scene knew how to reward his dedication.
Despite her youth, Penélope Cruz (Alcobendas, 47 years old) was not new to the trade either. She received her first professional opportunity in 1988, when she was chosen by Nacho Cano to star in the music video for The force of Destiny. Shortly after, he took another test that, in his own words, changed his life: “I don’t really know what I was doing reading The ages of Lulu at 14, but when it reached my ears that there would be a casting open, I showed up there”, he said in a farewell letter to Bigas Luna after his death. “The first thing Bigas asked me was my age. I told him I was 17 years old and he, always very sweetly and without making me feel bad, laughed in my face and said: ‘Well, you won’t be able to do this movie, although I’ll call you for another one when you’re older (…). I got the big surprise almost three years later. The phone rang and I received a call that made me believe in miracles.” So he ended up starring Ham Ham. And the miracles overlapped: his second film, belle epoqueby Trueba, received the second Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for a Spanish film.
After his work in between redtheir trajectories separated and did not coincide again until Return (2006). Penelope took advantage of the 12 years that passed between both projects to become an international star thanks to her work in Hollywood, with that ability that some talents have to make her feats seem easy. She shouted that “Pedrooo” that certified that Almodóvar had won the Oscar for best non-English speaking film for Everything about my mother (the second film they worked on together after tremulous meat) and for a moment the feat seemed simple. Blanca, meanwhile, combined an increasingly solvent theatrical career as an actress, producer and director, with her television work. Carlota, her character in Seven lifes, it gave him the popularity that the theater denied him and the stage gave him the prestige that Spanish television was deprived of at the time. “I have no problem playing the deep goose and the next day playing Medea,” he assured years ago in an interview.
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The reunion with ‘Back’
Cruz gave Raimunda the best of herself, which is saying something, and Raimunda gave the interpreter, in addition to one of the best characters of her career, her first Oscar nomination —the first actually for a Spanish actress— , his second Goya and the Cannes award for best performance, shared with the entire female cast of the film. From her experience in Cannes, Portillo usually remembers an anecdote about her: she could hardly sit at the table with her companions, because without the hair of one of her character, no one recognized her there. It was the wife of Samuel L. Jackson who snapped at her waitress who did not want to accommodate her: “But she is Agustina!” The same year Portillo premiered Goya’s ghosts, under Milos Forman, and Alatristewhere he played Fray Emilio Bocanegra, a constant, that of playing men who, after having played Hamlet and Segismundo —or right now Juan Mayorga in Be quiet—, it is already a house brand. “I am passionate about the character, not her sex (…). We have a different education and a different social role, which they have put into us with a hammer,” he explained to EL PAÍS, “but from my heart I don’t think there are many differences.” To the five Max awards that she accumulates for her work in theater, we must add the Silver Shell that she won for Seven French pool tablesthe National Theater Award (2012) and the Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts (2018), which Cruz had received three years earlier.
One year after nomination by ReturnPenelope won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress thanks to Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Portillo celebrated it on a platform that he wrote for EL PAÍS: “She has become one of the greats. I always knew that she was, but tonight, seeing her with the statuette in her hand, I have the impression that, starting today, the whole world will know.”
They worked together again on Almodóvar’s next film, Broken Embraces, and since then their careers have not crossed again. This week the faces will be seen in the Goya. Both compete for the award for best leading actress, one for parallel mothers, film for which Cruz has won the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival, and the other for maixabel. Perhaps the Goya will be won by Petra Martínez, for Life was that. It would not matter: at this point neither of them has to prove anything to anyone.
The Oscar stage gave Penélope Cruz the opportunity to give the speech of her life: “I was born in a place called Alcobendas, where this was not a very realistic dream”. “Now that the years have passed and I look back, never, not even in my wildest dreams, could I have imagined what has happened and where I have arrived,” Portillo confessed when he received the National Theater Award. Segismundo, in his confinement, did not know how to distinguish dreams from life. Blanca and Penélope met in a prison and seem to have managed not to distinguish life from dreams.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.