Broken Embraces: Death Becomes Almodóvar and Cruz

In Pedro Almodóvar's new film, Penélope Cruz plays an actress gone but not forgotten

Penelope Cruz, in her fourth Almodovar film, has never been so luminous

Often, before a movie scene is filmed, the director and cinematographer will bring in the leading actors' stand-ins to light and frame the shot. The opening image of Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces shows this process with a stand-in for Penélope Cruz. Then the star actress enters the frame. She looks so somber, as if she's about to read a death sentence — her own.

Almodóvar is cherished worldwide for his movies' brio and wisdom, but the Spanish writer-director, who turned 60 in September, has been preoccupied with death and mourning in many of his prime films. He killed off important characters...

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