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The Javier Bardem–Penélope Cruz Matrix

An evaluation of (and tribute to) the spiciest, most attractive, and overall best couple in Hollywood

Focus Films/United States Academy Entertainment Inc/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Fox/Ringer illustration

Allow me to state the utmost obvious: Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem are a very attractive couple. They’re the kind of couple you watch on screen and think, “Wow. They’re both attractive. They have fiery chemistry. They should date,” before you remember that they’re freaking married and that, for once, the universe has done something right.

Cruz and Bardem have appeared in nine movies together, from the 1992 Spanish film Jamón, Jamón to, most recently, Loving Pablo, which was released internationally in 2017. Over the years they have played strangers and lovers, switching seamlessly between rage and tenderness; in Loving Pablo, Bardem plays the drug lord Pablo Escobar, while Cruz plays Colombian journalist Virginia Vallejo. Not exactly relationship goals, but still worth checking out, if only to see the two of them together.

The duo are just as much a spectacle off screen as they are on. Whether they’re making out in the Maldives or merely meandering through Madrid with their children, Cruz and Bardem are a wondrous, vacillating mix of flawless and dysfunctional, disturbing and hot—often, they are a combination of all of the above. As a tribute to them, and as a way to perhaps capture and understand their magic, allow me to introduce the Javier Bardem–Penélope Cruz Matrix:

Rather than going through each Cruz-Bardem marvel on this chart, here are a handful of good ones (or really bad ones) that best embody the best couple in Hollywood.

Jamón, Jamón

Bardem and Cruz met on the set of Jamón, Jamón in 1992, when she was just 18 and he was 23. In general, Jamón, Jamón feels less like a Spanish movie and more like a parody of Spanish culture. There are plenty of seemingly random references to typical Spanish cuisine, namely tortilla de patatas and, of course, jamón, and the excessive cursing and nudity in the film is … a lot. There’s a scene in which Cruz’s two lovers beat each other with ham bones, and another in which Bardem and a friend practice bullfighting while completely nude for no apparent reason. Also, at one point, Bardem literally licks Cruz’s breasts and tells her that one tastes like tortilla de patatas and the other like jamón. It’s bizarre and funny, though I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be. Either way, the value of Jamón, Jamón—a title that now makes me uncomfortable, after having seen the aforementioned “your boob tastes like ham” scene—is witnessing Cruz and Bardem’s chemistry. It’s clear from the get-go that they have it bad for each other. Look at the way she looks at him:

And the way he looks at her while she’s rubbing his foot with cooking oil:

(Reader, he ate the garlic.)

Look at the way they take care of each other:

And this kiss:

The romance in Jamón, Jamón is just a tad dysfunctional—there’s an incestuous love hexagon, and I mean, the dirty talk is just way too food based—but in spite of that, the chemistry between the two still makes it hot. And lucky for us, it was just the beginning for Bardem and Cruz.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the duo’s most iconic feature film together. In the movie, Cruz and Bardem play ex-spouses Maria Elena and Juan Antonio, who really spice up Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina’s (Scarlett Johansson) trip to Barcelona (and now you know how the movie got its name). The movie is a very Spanish, very Woody Allen exploration of the definition of love, chock full of dreamy dialogue and nondiegetic strumming guitars. But it is most known for the polyamorous relationship between Juan Antonio, Cristina, and Maria Elena—not to mention the other love affair between Juan Antonio and Vicky, who is engaged to Chris Messina’s Doug.

Cruz and Bardem began dating in 2007, right around the time they were filming this movie, and the spark is obvious. You never see them kiss, but you see a comfort between them on top of the fire that started in Jamón, Jamón. Bardem said he thought twice about dating Cruz while they were filming Vicky Cristina Barcelona because her fieriness intimidated him. Maybe he was thinking of the scenes in which Maria Elena literally tries to shoot other characters or herself, or the repeated references to her attempting to physically harm, if not kill, Juan Antonio?

Either way, you see why they began dating; there’s no denying the couple is hot in this film, and there’s a real intimacy between their characters. At one point, Maria Elena begins yelling at Juan Antonio. She is angry, her rage at least in part motivated by jealousy, but there is real concern, real tension, in the ways in which she leans toward and away from Bardem while questioning his interest in the American tourists. She shouts and snarls and mocks and pouts, then she looks right at him and implores him to listen to her. She says she always has his best interest in mind, despite the fact that they are ex-lovers. And you believe her. How could she not?

Earlier, Juan Antonio welcomed Maria Elena back into his home after she had a breakdown, and it seemed like a bad idea. She’d just tried to commit suicide, months after she tried to kill him, but there didn’t seem to be a question in his mind as to whether or not he should take her in. And you see why. How could he not? It’s not healthy, of course, and the couple could certainly benefit from some boundaries and several sessions in therapy, but you see why they work the way they do. Very dysfunctional, but very hot.

Defending Woody Allen

Both Cruz and Bardem have spoken out in ways that are sympathetic toward and supportive of Woody Allen, saying that whether or not he is guilty of sexual assault merits more questioning. This is a low point for the couple: far more disturbing than hot, and far more dysfunctional than anything else.

Odes to Love

I used to think I loved all words of affirmation—now I know it’s those exchanged between Cruz and Bardem that truly touch my heart. The couple rarely launch into sonnets about each other, but that just makes their few romantic expressions all the more potent. In a 2012 GQ interview, Bardem said of his wife, “I’m happily married. I breathe and stay in peace. I truly thank whoever’s up there for giving me the opportunity to be loved.” That is the most calm, collected, and beautiful way anyone has ever said, “My wife is incredible.” There’s a subdued peace when Bardem talks, whether it’s on stage or in interviews. Cruz, on the other hand, is much more open to being vulnerable with her emotions. In an interview last month, she spoke about working with her spouse: “I really respect his opinion—obviously his is one of the most important opinions in my life. You are doing your work in front of this other person who is [on screen] not your husband. You feel a little more observed [than you would with different co-stars], but you know you are being observed by someone who you trust, who has your back.”

But the couple’s best ode to love came after Bardem won the Best Actor Award at Cannes in 2010. “I share the joy of this prize with my friend, my companion, my love: Penélope,” Bardem said. “I owe you so much, and I love you very much.” Cruz started crying during this tribute, similar to how I did just now, rewriting these quotes. Very impressive, very adorable.

Pay Equality

Bardem and Cruz were paid equally for their roles in the film Everybody Knows, which has not yet been released in the U.S. I wish I could be unimpressed by this, because it’s 2018, but apparently these things are still noteworthy. I’ll give them due credit here, while also admitting that it’s at least a little hot that they build their relationship around being true equals.

Parenting

Cruz and Bardem’s kids are named Leo and Luna, which is very cute and good. Also good is how dedicated Bardem and Cruz are to protecting their kids’ privacy—it’s pretty hard to find pictures of either child that aren’t blurred. In 2011, Cruz told Vogue, “I want my son — and my kids if I have more — to grow up in a way that is as anonymous as possible. The fact that his father and I have chosen to do the work that we do doesn’t give anybody the right to invade our privacy.” This is very impressive! And super normal—neither hot nor disturbing.

The Counselor

This movie is bad, and it’s not a particularly good Cruz-Bardem showcase. Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem both date other characters in this film: She’s with Michael Fassbender and he’s with Cameron Diaz. To make matters worse, they both play very horrible characters. Cruz plays a woman who is in love, and she serves as little more than a prop throughout the film, which is a true waste of her immense talent. Bardem, meanwhile, plays a very sexist character who looks like this:

Bardem has played unlikable characters before, like Raoul Silva in Skyfall, or the guy from No Country for Old Men, but those are good movies, ones where the dialogue is far less cringeworthy. And there is plenty of cringeworthy dialogue in The Counselor. Here are just two of the horrible things Bardem says in this:

Fassbender: “You don’t trust her.”

Bardem: “Of course not. She’s a woman.”

Then later:

Bardem: “Maybe, lacking in any moral sense themselves, they’re fascinated by it in a man.”

Also, at one point he watches Cameron Diaz have sexual relations with a Ferrari. This movie is bad. Too weird to be hot—which is saying something—and very unimpressive.

PDA

Bardem and Cruz do not shy away from PDA. They make out on the street and get super handsy like a couple of teenagers. And look, besos and butt grabs are great and all, but their hand-holding is their most noteworthy form of public affection. They don’t interlock fingers! It takes a certain level of security to cup rather than clasp, no? I aspire to achieve this level of hand-holding confidence.

Also, look at them at this Lakers game in 2010!

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I wonder what kind of sweet nothings he’s whispering in her ear. My best guess is: “This beer tastes like jamón.” And now, this next photo isn’t exactly a display of affection, but it’d be a crime not to include it:

Getty Images

Enhance.

Normally I’m skeptical about celebrity couples’ public interactions, but their’s don’t seem to be performative. Cruz and Bardem are notoriously private, and seem to care very little about sharing their private lives, so these moments of PDA are clearly, and gloriously, spontaneous and unstaged, which makes them all the more impressive and, needless to say, hot.


In the nearly three decades since their first film together, Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem have had some truly great moments together. Not all of their films are great in and of themselves, but any scene between the two of them, whether directed or not, is worth watching. Because again, Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem are a very attractive couple.