Penelope Cruz took best actress award at Venice Film Festival

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VENICE: Penelope Cruz took home the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival, the latest success for the all-conquering queen of Spanish cinema.

Cruz won for her starring role in Parallel Mothers, her latest collaboration with legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.

It was a surprisingly political turn for the flamboyant filmmaker, exploring the trauma of the 1930s Spanish civil war alongside the tale of two mothers sharing a maternity ward.

It marks a departure into dark historical territory for the director, while still focusing on the themes of motherhood and female relationships that have been central to many of his films.

Cruz described Almodovar as "my safety net" in a press conference ahead of their red carpet appearance in Venice.

"He can ask me to do something that can really scare me but I know he will be there waiting to sustain me," she said, adding that she was grateful to the director for giving her "so many different, challenging characters".

Cruz has appeared in seven of Almodovar's movies, including All About My Mother and Volver.

She had a busy fortnight in Venice, also starring in the well-received Official Competition, a comedy about ego-maniacs in the film business that saw her in a rare appearance alongside her Spanish megastar Antonio Banderas.

Cruz struggled to establish herself in mainstream Hollywood.

She achieved a rare but unwanted feat in 2001 when she received three nominations in the Golden Raspberries Oscars spoof for Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Blow and Vanilla Sky.

The latter cast her alongside Tom Cruise, whom she ended up dating for three years. Other flops followed including Gothika and Sahara.

But she bounced back, picking up an Oscar nomination for the 2006 Almodovar film Volver. And she made history by becoming the first Spanish actress to win an Oscar in 2009 for her part in the Woody Allen comedy Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

She was again paired with Bardem in that film, triggering a romance that led to their marriage in 2010.

The fiercely independent Cruz is also wary of being type-cast simply for her striking physical beauty. "The most difficult thing in the world is to start a career known only for your looks, and then to try to become a serious actress," she has said. "No one will take you seriously once you are known as the pretty woman."

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