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If only contemporary American filmmakers were as generous toward actresses as Pedro Almodovar, whose movies offer women the complex roles once enjoyed by Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Anna Magnani, and Sophia Loren. Penelope Cruz gives a mature, full-blooded performance as a working-class Madrid housewife whose oafish husband tries to rape their teenage daughter and winds up dead on the kitchen floor. This gritty melodrama is tempered by surreal black humor when neighbors in her provincial hometown report sightings of the ghost of Cruz's mother (Carmen Maura). The border between life and death proves achingly permeable as the mother tries to make amends with her late-blooming daughter and a saintly neighbor (Blanca Portillo, as iconic as Renee Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc). In Spanish with subtitles. 121 min. a Landmark's Century Centre.

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