There's no denying that Penélope Cruz is one of the defining actresses of our time.
On Tuesday night, the star was honoured at the 14th annual Museum of Modern Art Film Benefit, presented by Chanel, where close friends of the actress and fellow Hollywood heavyweights gathered to toast her triumphant film career. The actress and Chanel ambassador wore a custom-made, open-back gown courtesy of the fashion house for the evening (inspired by Look 22 from the brand's fall/winter 2020-21 haute couture collection, it took more than 700 hours to make). And she glimmered in Chanel fine jewellery, too, including the Premiers Brins diamond earrings and the Étoile Filante and Comète white gold rings.
The night of tributes began with Cruz's Vicky Cristina Barcelona costar, Passing director Rebecca Hall. She reminisced on their time together making the film, which went on to earn Cruz her first Academy Award, making her the first Spanish woman to win an Oscar.
"Penelope is the true definition of a movie star," Hall said.
Fellow Spaniard and global superstar Rosalía also honoured Cruz during the evening, speaking about how she grew up watching Cruz's films with her sister and pinning her famous onscreen looks (like the red sundress in her film debut in 1992's Jamón, Jamón) on the mood boards they would create together. Rosalía ended up making her major motion picture debut alongside Cruz, in Pedro Almodóvar's 2019 film Dolor y Gloria (Pain and Glory). The singer even gave Cruz an impromptu serenade during her speech, singing a portion of Lola Flores's "A Tu Vera," which they performed together in the film.
Musician Ricky Martin also commemorated his friendship with Cruz, sharing memories of their time together filming The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.
The standout moment of the evening, however, was Cruz's moving speech, during which she recalled her earliest memories of falling in love with the film world and, more specifically, her longtime creative collaborator and director, Pedro Almodóvar.
"As a child I was mesmerised by the magic and wonder and beauty of the cinema, of the giant screen. I spent hours watching and rewatching films. Rewind and return. Spanish films, French, Italian films, and, of course, also American films," Cruz said as Anne Hathaway, Diane Kruger, Kristen Wiig, and more looked on. "But then, I saw the Spanish film Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! — I had never seen anything like it. Watching what Pedro and his actors were doing made me feel that I wanted to do just that—that I had to be part of that universe. It was clear in the way he wrote incredible, complex female characters how much Pedro loved and respected women. I would not be here tonight and honoured by MoMA if I had not had the privilege of working with brilliant directors who have inspired me, taught me, and helped me grow as an artist and a person."
Preserving the magic of cinema is a mission that both Cruz and Chanel share; the fashion house has been a longtime patron of the film industry — whether it was Gabrielle Chanel herself dressing early Hollywood film stars, Karl Lagerfeld's signature cinematic runway set production, or current creative director Virginie Viard's ongoing collaborations with director Sofia Coppola. Cruz concluded her speech by reminding the audience of the importance of the theatre-going experience and encouraged everyone to champion the film industry as it builds itself back up in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think we've realised in a world that is hurting and scared and divided, we need all forms of art, maybe more than ever," Cruz said. "We need film to see not only our own stories reflected back to us, but to see everyone's stories told. Cinema is resilient — but we need to protect it."
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