"There is only one Pedro," Cruz told reporters Friday at the Cannes Film Festival, where "Volver" is competing for the top prize. "For me he is really my priority in every way."
Cruz plays Raimunda, a working-class woman forced to go to great lengths to protect her 14-year-old daughter. To top off the family crisis, her mother comes back from the dead to tie up loose ends.
"He writes for women that are 14, 30, 45, 60, 80, and this movie is an example of that," Cruz said. "You have great characters for women of all ages. I know that doesn't happen a lot. I feel sure my career wouldn't be the same without him."
Cruz's first Almodovar film was "Live Flesh," in 1997. In "All About My Mother," which brought him Cannes' prize for top director in 1999 and an Academy Award for best foreign-language film the following year, Cruz played a pregnant nun with AIDS.
Her new character is a Sophia Loren-type role. Raimunda is feisty, earthy and sexy in low-cut blouses, her hair is perpetually tousled and her mascara drips when she cries. Almodovar had her watch old Italian films as inspiration.
Carmen Maura, another Almodovar actress who starred in "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," plays Cruz' frumpy mother. Lola Duenas ("The Sea Inside") has a comic turn as Cruz' sister, a hairdresser who takes in their mother and hides her when she comes back from the dead. In Spanish, "volver" means "to return."
The movie is part drama, part campy comedy, and it's full of Almodovar's trademark plot twists. Though it addresses themes like sexual abuse, loneliness and death, in some ways it recalls his earlier work, which had a lighter touch than his recent films. "Talk to Her" (best original screenplay at the 2003 Oscars) and 2004's "Bad Education" were noted for their strong male roles.
"Volver" is partly set in Spain's wind-swept La Mancha region, where Almodovar was born, and marked a return to his roots. Almodovar says his mother inspired many aspects of his female characters.
"I was educated by women," he said. "The men were out in the fields, they were out working, I never saw them in fact when I was a child. So `Volver' ... talks about how I grew up, I grew up listening to these women.
"They were life, reality and the origins of fiction," he said. "They told extraordinary tales which really impressed me deeply."