Actress Carmen Maura worked for over a dozen years in film and television in her native Spain before breaking through to international audiences with 1988's award-winning "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." It was one of eight films in which Maura was directed by Pedro Almodovar and an ideal showcase of her ability to carry a film with commanding presence, raw emotion, and campy wit. She also made a mark for her daring artistic choices, going beyond the taboo of playing a liberated woman to take on risky roles like a transsexual or drug addicted nun. In the 1980s and 1990s, as Spain recovered from years of artistic oppression under dictator Francisco Franco, the team of Maura and Almodovar emerged as among the most respected figures in contemporary European cinema.
Carmen Maura was born on Sept. 15, 1945, in Madrid, Spain. Her family lineage included lawyers and Spanish aristocrats (a Prime Minister and several nobles among them), but the Mauras were also populated with a number of writers and a film director as well. It was probably clear which direction Carmen wanted to take when she enrolled in Paris' Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study literature and philosophy. Upon graduation, she returned to Madrid, where she landed a few small TV roles, and made her film debut in "The Man in Hiding" (1970). But creative outlets were limited in Spain, which was choked by the conservatism and censorship of dictator Francisco Franco.
In 1975, Franco's death led to a whole new movement of Spanish music, painting, and film - "La Movida" - and Maura was on the front lines of the pop culture revolution. She made a breakout performance with her major role in 1977's "Paper Tigers" and followed up with half a dozen movies over the next year. But her biggest film break came about while she was performing in a stage production of Jean-Paul Sartre's "Dirty Hands," during which she shared the stage with aspiring filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. Her sensibilities were exactly what Almodovar was looking for, so he cast her in his first feature film, the historically significant but technically lacking "Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls on the Heap" (1980).
The prolific pair collaborated on eight films over the next 26 years, developing a signature style of female-centered stories with dark humor, real emotion, and a healthy dose of camp. Their first effort was followed up by the screwball comedy "Labyrinth of Passions" (1982), a comic melodrama about drug-addicted nuns called "Dark Habits" (1983), and the dysfunctional domestic portrait "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" (1984), which was the first to receive international distribution. The film earned Maura her first Fotogramas de Plata Award for Best Film Actress and began to firmly establish the pair's focus on strong-willed female protagonists dealing with life in a patriarchal society.
Maura went on to earn a Fotogramas nomination for "Matador" (1986) and further pushed artistic boundaries with the disturbing love triangle plot of "Law of Desire." "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," however, was free of dark sex or drug overtones and was a fast-paced, hilarious, universally accessible film where Maura played a sophisticated urban professional who loses it when she is broken up with via her answering machine. The film finally placed Maura in front of large international audiences, winning her Goya and Fotogramas de Plata Awards for Best Film Actress. The film itself was nominated for multiple Oscars. But after she and Almodovar's big arrival on the international scene, the pair had a falling out and did not work together again for over a decade. However, Maura, who had also shot dozens of film and TV projects with other directors throughout the 1980s, was not lacking for work.
Following her split with Almodovar, Maura made the wildly successful Spanish Civil War film "Ay Carmela" (1990), "Between Heaven and Earth" (1992), and "How to Be Miserable and Enjoy it" (1994). In the latter part of the 1990s, she appeared in half a dozen films, as well as starred in two seasons of the Spanish TV comedy, "A las once en Casa," winning a Fotogramas de Plata award for Best TV Actress. In 2001, she received Goya and European Film awards for Best Actress for the black comedy/thriller "La Comunidad" (2000).
Now firmly established as one of Spain's most beloved actresses, Maura starred in another string of features that explored her export territory of dark satire with "Killers on Holiday" (2002), as well as liberated womanhood in "Searching for Love" (2004) and "Queens" (2005). In 2006, she and Pedro Almodovar buried the hatchet and made what was considered their finest effort to date - "Volver" (2006). The film explored themes of death and female solidarity - and in true solidarity (as well as "return," the literal translation of the title) - all six stars shared a Best Actress Award at Cannes, including Maura and Almodovar's newest muse, Penelope Cruz. The screenplay won top honors at Cannes, and the film received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Unstoppable Maura carried right on with a pair of features and a recurring TV role over the following year.
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Began working as an actress at age 25
Feature film debut in Almodovar's "Pepi, Luci Bom... And a Whole Lot of Other Girls"
Appeared in the spanish comedy, "Sal gorda"
Reteamed with Almodóvar for "Matador"
Co-starred with Antonio Banderas in "La Mujer de tu vida: La mujer feliz"
Again acted opposite Antonio Banderas in Pedro Almodóvar's "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"
Co-starred with Natalie Portman in Amos Gitai's "Free Zone"
Cast opposite Natalie Portman in Amos Gitai's "Free Zone"
Co-starred with Penélope Cruz in Almodóvar's "Volver"