Alison Jones meets the film star who's equally at home in Hollywood and the art houses.
The jury at Cannes demonstrated a remarkable sense of fairness or indecision when they made the performance awards at this year's festival.
They named the five male stars of Indigenes as Best Actor and the six women who make up the main cast of Volver as Best Actress.
To look at the poster of Volver though, it would seem as though there were just one star, Penelope Cruz.
Volver sees her reunited with director Pedro Almodovar, her mentor and the filmmaker for whom she has unquestionably done her best work.
It was her unforgettable turn giving birth on a bus in Almodovar's Live Flesh that brought her to the attention of international audiences. She was reunited with him two years later to play a pregnant nun with HIV in All About My Mother.
"We have a great connection from the beginning," says Penelope. "Even before I met him, it was so strange, I felt like I already knew him.
"I adore him. It's much more than working together. He's a really special person in my life."
Pedro wrote the part of Raimunda in Volver especially for the 32-year-old actress, but only after she outgrew the one he had originally intended her to play.
"At the beginning he said he was thinking about me for the role of the daughter, because it was seven years ago. Then he was writing and he said 'Now I see you more as the lead character'. When I read it, I thought it was the best script I had ever read in my life."
Volver examines the close relationship that some countries have with the dead.
It opens with two sisters and a grand-daughter cleaning the graves of their parents and grandparents, before visiting an ailing aunt.
When one of the sisters, Sole, goes to the funeral of the aunt she returns home with a stowaway - the ghost of her mother (Carmen Maura). This unexpectedly solid spectre comes with an agenda, to try and repair the rift that had developed between her and Raimunda and to stop history repeating itself between Raimunda and her teenage daughter.
"I always saw my mother like Raimunda," says Penelope. "She was very passionate about life. She had to fight alone to raise us. She had to work six days a week and then she would do breakfast, lunch and dinner. She was a super woman. I don't know how she did it with three kids.
"And Raimunda, she is like a force of nature."
In order to get Penelope into the right matriarchal frame of mind to play the beautiful yet resourceful Raimunda, Pedro encouraged Penelope to study the women in Italian neo-realist films.
"My character represents motherhood. That was the reason for the character to have the physical aspect of Sophia Loren or Anna Magnani in Belissima. For some reason, in the 50s, in Italy, the mother figure was very important.
"In Volver the men disappear very quickly. There are reasons for that. The men make a lot of mistakes then they are gone."
Even though Raimunda does hold herself emotionally in check, Penelope found that playing had stirred her motherly instincts.
"All my life, since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to have children. I love children.
"With the three movies I have done with Pedro I have been a mother. He kills me off in the other two but in this one I survive."
She started making inroads into the American film industry, appearing in The Hi-Lo Country directed by Stephen Frears. This was followed by Billy Bob Thornton's All The Pretty Horses and Ted Demme's Blow, playing opposite Johnny Depp as the man who brought cocaine to America.
She then won the female lead in the much anticipated Captain Corelli's Mandolin. By that time she was becoming more famous for the fact she was dating Tom Cruise than for her acting talent, and the critical panning Mandolin received did little to flatter her professionally.
She and Cruise were paired for Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe's remake of Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), with Penelope playing the same role as she had in the original.
Penelope now switches between American and European cinema and shows a determination to conquer both.
She actually learned Italian (she also speaks French as well as Spanish and English), she was desperate to get the part in the movie Non Ti Muovere, earning the Italian equivalent of a Best Actress Oscar for her pains.
For Volver she had to learn how to fake being a trained chef and also a singer.
"I did a lot of cooking. I learnt how to chop in a professional way and I did months of training with flamenco singers to learn the position and the way they sit. It wasn't my voice so the playback had to be perfect.
"As for cooking I always serve the same receipes to impress my friends so they think I can cook but I don't know how to do anything else.
"A friend saw me cooking some carrots and said 'you're good at that. I thought you couldn't cook'. That's from the lessons for the movie."
* Volver is in cinemas from this Friday