Universal Pictures' International Studio and Focus Features International have announced strengthened ties with Spain-based production company El Deseo, run by Pedro and Agustin Almodovar.

Universal has signed on to co-finance Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces (Los Abrazos Rotaos) and also Focus Features International is selling worldwide rights, excluding Spain (retained by El Deseo), France, the UK, Benelux and Switzerland.

Penelope Cruz stars, and the project is set to start shooting May 26 in Madrid and the Canary Islands.

Focus is also expanding its relationship with El Deseo by taking on sales for Cannes competitor The Headless Woman (La Mujer Sin Cabeza) directed by Lucrecia Martel. That film's backers are El Deseo, Aquafilms, Slot Machine, Teodora and R&C. The Headless Woman is about a woman who loses her memory after an accident but manages to adjust to life without anyone noticing the change in her.

Universal and Focus said they planned to announce further projects with El Deseo soon. The companies previously worked together when Focus sold Pedro Almodovar's Talk To Her, Bad Education and Volver and Isabel Coixet's The Secret Life Of Words and My Life Without Me.

'We have been working with Focus on many different projects for several years now and they have known how to back and support our very personal vision for each of these projects,' said Agustin Almodovar. 'Because of their understanding of our way of working, we have decided to deepen our collaboration with David Linde, Universal and Focus so Focus keeps on handling the international sales and Universal becomes our financial partner.'

Alison Thompson, president of international sales and distribution atFocus Features International, added: 'We are thrilled to be able to continue our long and successful collaboration with Agustin and Pedro Almodovar and El Deseo onLos Abrazos Rotaosand we look forward to premiering Lucrecia Martel's La Mujer Sin Cabeza in competition at Cannes.'

Added Christian Grass, president of Universal's International Studio: 'We are delighted to be able to support Agustin and Pedro Almodovar as they continue to make films that resonate uniquely with audiences around the world. Universal's international production group is committed to providing the most comprehensive support possible for companies like El Deseo and our involvement in these pictures represents the depth of what our international studio has to offer.'