Impressions of a Spanish film star on her first glimpse of Hollywood:

"I am a little afraid of this city. It is very special. I think it is too much for me. Too much. It is very big, lot of cars. I drive but I don't want to drive (here). It is impossible to live here without car. Impossible to work."It's hard to imagine Carmen Maura afraid of anything. Her fiery temperament is one of the many delights of "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," which was Spain's entry as foreign language film in the recent Academy Award sweepstakes.

The film, the director Pedro Almodovar and Maura have elicited rave reviews from American critics, and the moviegoing public has responded accordingly. The movie has grossed $4.6 million, which is big money for a subtitled film.

"Women on the Verge" has been compared to the great screwball comedies of the late 1930s Hollywood. Maura says she is not surprised that Americans like the film.

"When I started to work with Pedro 10 years ago, we had a situation and a relationship that was very special," she recalled. "I said to him, `Oh, Pedro, don't worry, because in time the Americans will understand you.'

"I am very proud of Pedro Almodovar. He is very genuine. His sense of humor is very American sometimes, and my sense of humor also. The Spanish have a lot of sense of humor. The directors in Spain don't normally make the kinds of films like Pedro makes. They make films about the war, about the poor - no colors, no rich persons. Pedro is different."

The Almodovar-Maura partnership goes back to when he was working for the telephone company in Madrid and she was a mostly unemployed actress. The dark beauty, who speaks in bursts of slightly flawed English, remarked:

"The first moment when I meet Pedro, I am a little actress and he is very young. He had no money; he had nothing. He works with the Telefonica and with little parts in the theater. He work with Super-8 (movies) and he make jokes every day.

"He has an imagination really, really special. He began to speak to me, and I began to speak to him about life, about women, about men. I say to him, `Pedro, you must get away from the Super-8 and go to the big film.' So we make the first film during two years on the weekends, without money, without makeup, without nothing. It was a very, very funny movie."

It was called "Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Mom," a title that set the tone for Almodovar's film career. Born in a small village of La Mancha in 1951, he had come to Madrid at the age of 17, worked at various humdrum jobs while indulging in the burgeoning world of underground literature, pop music and movies. At one time he played in a rock band called Almodovar and McNamara.

Carmen Maura was born to a conservative Madrid family in 1945. After a Catholic education, she worked in an art gallery while seeking work in theater productions. She met Pedro when she was starring in Satre's "Dirty Hands," and he had a one-line role. After their first movie, she became a TV talk-show hostess on the popular "Esta Noche" ("Tonight") program.

Almodovar first attracted attention outside of Spain with his third film, "Dark Habits," in which Maura played a bongo-playing nun. In his other films, she portrayed a harried housewife ("What Have I Done to Deserve This?"), a psychiatrist ("Matador") and a flamboyant transsexual ("Law of Desire"). The director's reputation continued to grow, then he exploded with "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" which opened last season's New York Film Festival.

"It is the first time that a Spanish film has made as much money as an American film," Maura said. "In this case we have the money like `Rambo,' like Spielberg. It is the most successful film in the history of the Spanish film. The people see the film three times, four times, and they go with the whole family. They repeat, they laugh a lot. The film is in four cinemas one year. It has a long life in Spain.

"I don't understand exactly what happened with this film. The cinema is a mystery. Sometimes it happens. I don't understand it."