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Penélope Cruz: ‘I start every shoot like it’s my first movie’ | USA

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One day many years ago, Penélope Cruz received the call she had always dreamed of, but refused to answer the phone. Why? She thought it was a joke. “I said, ‘Yeah, sure, come on’,” she recalls. But her family insisted: Pedro Almodóvar really was waiting on the other end of the line. Could she please take the phone? To the teenager it seemed impossible: the director of Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, the film that made her want to act in the first place, was asking after her? When Almodóvar congratulated her on some of her early roles, she had no choice but to concede — it was him.

That conversation would become the first of thousands, blossoming into a friendship and a close collaboration that is still ongoing, 30 years later. She was too young to appear in Kika (1993), he believed, but cast her for a few minutes in Live Flesh (1997), fitting in a birth scene that would become famous. Then promising talents, they both became stars. The electricity produced with him behind the camera and her in front crackled through All About My Mother (1999), Volver (2006), and Pain and Glory (2019). Almodóvar then asked her to give birth again for Parallel Mothers, only now Cruz takes up most of the screen time. The resulting film opens on October 8 in the United States and Spain.

Penélope Cruz kisses the Copa Volpi on September 11 in Venice.
Penélope Cruz kisses the Copa Volpi on September 11 in Venice.ETTORE FERRARI (EFE)

“Actors look for challenging material, characters that are different from us and from what we’ve done before. In my career, I’ve been lucky enough to take on several complex roles. Many of them have been with Pedro,” Cruz, 47, tells EL PAÍS at the movie’s Venice Film Festival premiere. She became the first Spanish actress to win the festival’s Volpi Cup for best actress, adding this to her Oscar won for Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

“Of all my roles with Pedro, it may be the most complicated,” she says of the film. “There is no rest on a mental, emotional, even physical level. It’s a non-stop rollercoaster, putting [my character] on the ropes,” Cruz explains of Janis, her role in Parallel Mothers. Janis is a resilient and imperfect woman – in other words, a human being. She throws herself into raising her baby, while also fighting for her grandfather to be exhumed from the mass grave where he was buried in 1936. “I think it’s important for this subject to travel around the world. As my character says, it’s about giving the relatives the chance of a dignified burial. How can you deny someone something like that?” she says, in reference to Spain’s many Civil War-era grave sites that remain untouched to this day.

The film is heartfelt, even more so for a performer who considers herself “intense.” “It’s a way of life that one does not choose. Maybe I feel the good things more, but the bad things are very, very close to the surface,” she says. “I am really affected by other people’s energy, so if a person enters a room and is not doing well and I know them, it sticks to me. Sometimes too much, and I wish I could put a little more distance between things. But I think that’s one of the reasons why I unconsciously chose this job. It’s not that I live out acting as therapy, but it’s a kind of relief,” Cruz added.

Pedro is demanding, but he explains what he wants so well

Penélope Cruz

Cruz has said she is ever grateful for the “luck” she had to star in two films, Jamón, Jamón and Belle Époque, in the same year, 1992. She has not looked back. The daughter of working-class parents, Encarna and Eduardo, from the Madrid suburb of Alcobendas, she broke Hollywood long ago and is now one of Spain’s most recognizable figures worldwide. “She may be the best-known Spaniard outside her country, apart from Real Madrid and Barcelona soccer players and, perhaps, Rafael Nadal,” wrote Esquire magazine a few years ago. Shooting in Spanish, English and Italian, she is the only performer with at least one award in Spain (Goya), Italy (David), the UK (Bafta) and France (Césars).

The success hasn’t calmed her nerves one bit. “I start every shoot like it’s my first film. And sometimes the first few days are a bit nerve-wracking. I’m afraid, insecure. But I don’t want to lose those nerves, because this job can’t be done otherwise,” she says. “No two people are the same, so it’s a bottomless pit of searching and learning, and that’s what I love the most. Sometimes the time when you are preparing the character makes you happier than actually playing her, or seeing the result,” Cruz adds. Her deep embrace of her alter egos takes time to let go: “It has happened that I have to take a moment and say, ‘This character has to get out’. Sometimes I feel like they have been inside me for months, and of course it affects and changes things.”

A role like Janis was particularly hard to let go. On set, actorly tears led to real episodes of sobbing. The austere plot also affected the shoot, with hardly anyone cracking jokes. “I don’t know if a character like this can be played without suffering, from a relaxed place. I only had a bad time the last week, when I was very emotional. Pedro was interested in shooting the moments before and after that explosion of feelings, and for that you had to go through the peaks. It was practically daily,” she explains. “He is demanding, but he explains what he wants so well. He takes care of you emotionally. It was a tremendous journey. Now, if he were to invite me onto another film in a few months’ time, it would just be a case of where do I sign up?” Cruz says. The bond she shares with Almodóvar is held with enormous trust, and the ability to understand the distinction between friendship and work: “We change a bit during the shoot. It’s not that we’re colder toward each other, but it creates a somewhat different relationship.”

It’s hard to believe that an Almodóvar film featuring Cruz and her Spanish actor husband Javier Bardem has never been considered. “It happened in Live Flesh although it’s true that we didn’t have scenes together. I think the three of us would like that, but it should happen naturally,” she says. Right now, she is busy with other projects. “My current mission is a documentary that I’m going to direct and which will take two or three years. I can’t say what it’s about,” she says excitedly, albeit somewhat mysteriously. In recent years she has spoken out about climate change and migrants’ rights, including support for the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, if one is looking for clues, and the shantytowns of Madrid’s Cañada Real, as well as Spain’s longstanding gender-based violence problem.

She has already completed filming on Yo soy uno entre cien mil (or, I am one in a hundred million) about childhood leukemia, and in a few months, a feature film by by Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn, Competencia oficial, will be released in Spain with Cruz at the helm. The timing is due to Covid-19, because the actress normally takes breaks between her projects: “I don’t usually shoot one film after another. I did it for 15 or 20 years, but once I had my children that changed: my priority is to raise them and have time for them”. No script can compete with that.

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Senior figures in Washington stand behind Belfast Agreement and protocol, McDonald says

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Senior figures in United States politics have made it clear that the government of Boris Johnson in the UK will face negative consequences internationally if it attempts to rupture or dispense with the Northern Ireland protocol, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said.

In a presentation at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Thursday she said the protocol was “necessary, operable and going nowhere, despite what Boris Johnson might wish to believe”.

She said she had met with “people of considerable influence” in the US Congress and in the Biden administration on her visit to the US this week and they all stood four square behind the Belfast Agreement and the protocol.

“I heard yesterday on the Hill the clearest possible articulation across the board that any notion of walking away from the protocol would not be acceptable to the United States.”

Asked about a report in the Financial Timed that Washington had delayed lifting tariffs on UK steel and aluminium products amid concerns about threats by the UK to invoke article 16 of the protocol, Ms McDonald said this was a matter for the Biden administration.

However, she said: “There is no doubt where the US stands. If Johnson believes he can walk away from the protocol, he is wrong and there will be consequences for Britain if he chooses that course of action.”

Tariffs

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie, who was also in Washington DC on Thursday, said if the lifting of tariffs was being delayed due to concerns about the protocol, he would argue at a meeting with the US state department that it had “got it wrong” in its view on what article 16 was about.

“If people say we have to adhere to the protocol and article 16 is part of the protocol then it becomes a legitimate thing you can use.”

“It is not about whether you should or should not use it. It is about how you should use it.

“You should use it in a narrow sense of a particular issue that is causing economic or societal harm in Northern Ireland, for example, medicines .”

“If the medicine issue has not been fixed and is starting to affect the people of Northern Ireland, it would be right to instigate article 16 to focus minds on that issue.”

Ms McDonald also told the press club event that she expected the United States would “be on the right side” on the controversy over British plans for an amnesty in relation to killings during the Troubles.

She said the British government was going to the ultimate point to keep the truth from the people about its war in Ireland.

She said the Johnson government’s plans would mean “in effect no possibility of criminal action, civil actions or even inquests into killings in the past”.

Ms McDonald also forecast that a point was coming over the coming five or 10 years where referenda would be held on the reunification of Ireland. She urged the Irish government to establish a citizen’s assembly to consider preparation for unity.

She also said “there will be need for international support and international intervention to support Ireland as we move to transition from partition to reunification”.

Separately, asked about a recent Sinn Féin golf fundraising event that was held in New York, Ms McDonald said the money that was raised would be spent on campaigning and lobbying in the US.

She described it as a patriotic expression by people in the US who had a deep interest in Ireland and the peace process.

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Drop in cancer diagnoses as high as 14 per cent during pandemic, early data shows

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The drop in the number of cancers detected during the Covid-19 pandemic could be as high as 14 per cent, preliminary data has suggested.

A report from the National Cancer Registry said it was still too early to provide “definitive answers” on whether pandemic hospital restrictions last year led to a reduction in the number of cancers diagnosed.

The registry’s annual report said an estimated decrease of 14 per cent in detections pointed to the “potential scale” of Covid-19’s impact on other healthcare.

A separate analysis of data on microscopically verified cancers diagnosed last year showed a reduction of between 10 and 13 per cent, the report said.

The drop in confirmed cancer cases, when compared with previous years, could be partly accounted for by “incomplete registration of cases already diagnosed”, it said.

Prof Deirdre Murray, director of the National Cancer Registry, said there were “clear signals that, as expected in Ireland, the number of cancer diagnoses in 2020 will be lower than in previous years”.

‘Very worried’

Averil Power, chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society, said the organisation was “very worried” over the significant drop in cancers diagnosed last year.

The shortfall in cancers being diagnosed would present a “major challenge” in the coming years, with lengthy waiting lists and disruptions to screening services “all too commonplace” already, she said.

Ms Power said it was frightening to think of the people who were living with cancer but did not know it yet. She added that existing cancer patients were “terrified” of having treatments delayed due to the recent rise in Covid-19 cases.

The registry’s report said there were about 44,000 tumours identified each year between 2017 and 2019.

Not counting non-melanoma skin cancer, the most common cancer diagnoses were for breast and prostate cancer, which made up almost a third of invasive cancers found in women and men respectively.

For men this was followed by bowel and lung cancer, and melanoma of the skin. Lung cancer was the second most common cancer for women, followed by colorectal cancer and melanoma of skin.

Nearly a third of deaths in 2018 were attributed to cancer, with lung cancer the leading cause of death from cancer, the report said.

The second, third and fourth most common cancers to die from in men were bowel, prostate and oesophagus cancer. For women breast, bowel and ovarian cancers were the most common fatal cancers.

The report said there were almost 200,000 cancer survivors in Ireland at the end of 2019, with breast cancer patients making up more than a fifth of the total.

Mortality rates

The research found cancer rates among men had dropped between 2010 and 2019, with mortality rates decreasing or remaining the same across nearly every type of cancer. Rates of cancer detected among women had increased between 2008 and 2019, with mortality rates for most cancers decreasing.

The report said the five-year survival rate from cancer had increased to 65 per cent for the period 2014 to 2018, compared with 42 per cent two decades previous.

There had been “major improvement” in survival rates for most major cancers, however, the research noted the chances of survival varied significantly depending on the type of cancer.

Prostate, melanoma of the skin and testis cancer had survival rates of more than 90 per cent, followed closely by breast and thyroid cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma. Pancreas, liver, oesophagus and lung cancers had much lower five-year survival rates on average, the report said.

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How Germany has made it easier to cancel broadband and phone contracts

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What’s going on?

On December 1st, new amendments to the Telecommunications Act came into force in Germany. The updates bring with them wide-ranging changes to consumer rights laws for people who’ve signed – or will sign – new mobile, landline and internet contracts.

The headline change relates to the amount of time contracts are allowed to run for after they renew. If a customer signs up to a 24-month mobile contract and doesn’t cancel before it renews, telecommunications companies will no longer be allowed to sign that customer up for another one or two years without their permission.

Instead, people who don’t cancel in time will be put onto a one-month rolling contract that essentially allows them to terminate at any point with just one month’s notice.

It’s an end to a tax on the disorganised that has seen people stuck paying for contracts they no longer want or need for up to 24 months longer – often at higher prices than they agreed when they first signed the contract.

Does that mean all contracts will be rolling contracts?

Not exactly. As before, most new contracts will run for a minimum 24-month term – so expect to be locked in for at least this long, unless you specifically look for a more flexible contract. 

The change affects what happens after this initial term is up, meaning if you do sign up for a yearly contract, one year won’t automatically turn into two if you don’t remember to cancel it in time. 

READ ALSO: Everything that changes in Germany in December 2021

What else is new?

Alongside the key changes to contract durations, there are also changes to the way in which contracts are agreed and tougher standards for internet providers.

In future, if you agree a contract over the phone, you have to receive a summary of the terms of the contract and confirm it in writing before the agreement is legally valid. 

This summary must include the service provider’s contact details, a description of agreed services, details of any activation fees, the duration of the contract and any conditions for renewal and termination. Without written approval, the contract has no legal standing and the provider has no claims against the customer – even if they switched to the new services immediately after the telephone call.

A young man on the phone in Hannover
A young man takes a phone call on a tram in Hannover. Under the new changes, contracts agreed over the phone will not be valid until they are confirmed in writing. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

If a provider makes a change to a contract after it’s up and running, customers now have the right to terminate without notice.

In future, providers must inform customers if there are more favourable offers available and a change to a new contract would be possible.  This must happen once a year, and once again, providers aren’t allowed to do this solely over the phone. 

For broadband customers, there’s more good news: internet providers will in future face issues if they don’t provide the bandwidth stated in the contract. 

That means that if your internet is slower than promised, you should have the right to pay a reduced price or terminate the contract. 

READ ALSO: Moving house in Germany: 7 things you need to know about setting up utility contracts

I signed a new contract a while ago. Do the new rules still apply? 

Yes, they do. Regardless of when you signed your new contract, the amendments to the Telecommunications Act will apply. 

That means that once your initial contract period is up, you should be able to cancel freely and only pay for the month’s notice. You should also be informed of any changes to your contract or better offers and be eligible for compensation if your internet goes below the promised bandwidth. 

If you’ve already been locked in to a 12- or 24-month contract through an auto-renewal, the situation is a bit less clear – but it may be worth contacting your provider and asking them if the terms of your contract have changed in light of the new law. 

READ ALSO: Has it just got easier to end credit agreements in Germany?

What are people saying?

The Telecommunications and Value-Added Services Association, which represents the industry, said it was important than the initial 24-month contracts were allowed to continue. The subsequent new notice periods are a good compromise, VATM Managing Director Jürgen Grützner told Tagesschau

“On the one hand, this means better financial forecasting for expanding providers’ networks and, on the other hand, the best of both worlds for consumers,” he added. 

Campaign for faster internet
“We need fast internet!” is scrawled in huge letters across a street in Weetzen, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Ole Spata

However, Grützner believes the new rules on bandwidth could cause difficulties for providers who struggle to offer the same quality of internet across all regions. 

Meanwhile, consumer rights advocates have welcomed the improvements to contract law. 

In particular, the Federal Consumer Advice Centre “expects competition to improve as a result of the new regulation, including the price-performance ratio,” Susanne Blohm from the organisation’s Digital and Media Division told Tagesschau.

In an initial sign of the regulation’s positive impact, the provider Telefonica has announced that it will abolish surcharges for contracts that don’t have a minimum cancellation period. 

Vocabulary

amendments – (die) Novelle

bandwidth – (die) Bandbreite 

minimum contract term – (die) Mindestlaufzeit 

provider – (der) Anbieter

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.



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