Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Director: Pedro Almodovar

Stars: Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano, María Barranco

Release Company: Sony Pictures Classics

MPAA Rating: R

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Almodovar: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown


I love foreign films. They don’t have to follow the Hollywood rules, and are often more intimate and touch deeper levels. Yet while the films of artists like Bergman challenge the intellect and while the livelier films of the incomparable Federico Fellini enthrall, sometimes its nice to watch a subtitled film for its entertainment value alone—and feel that you have still experienced the essence of the film.

A reliable source for non-English speaking films that demonstrate absolutely no pretentiousness is Pedro Almodóvar. Unless you are an English major, trained to fabricate deeper meanings out of anything as an academic exercise in mental masturbation, you can relax and just have fun with his 1988 film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios), recently released on DVD.

Women on the Verge is pure farce—the Spanish equivalent to extended version of I Love Lucy. But this time the female heroine Pepa (Carmen Maura) is already in show business, doing television work, commercials, and voice dubbing Spanish into English speaking films. She is obsessively in love with Iván (Fernando Guillén), a middle-aged actor who seems to meet a new girlfriend every time he turns around (and does so in a humorously constructed early montage).

No matter that Iván is already married. The years have not been kind to his wife Lucia (Julieta Serrano) and she belongs back in the mental ward of the hospital anyway. She is well aware of her husband’s amorous ways and infidelities, but it becomes too much for her when known lover Pepa impulsively calls her about her husband’s whereabouts. This leads to one of the better lines of the film when Pepa summons a cab to follow Pauline—“I thought this only happened in movies.”

Complications abound. Pepa’s girlfriend Candela (Maria Barranco) is troubled that the police will track her down because her latest boyfriend turns out to be a Shiite terrorist, and then Iván’s son (played by Almodóvar favorite Antonio Bandaras) and girlfriend turn up to inspect Pepa’s flat for possible rental. Throw in some clueless policemen and telephone repairmen who drink the barbiturate laced gazpacho and we have the same type of screwball farces that Lucy Ricardo engineered in the 1950’s.

But Women on the Verge is composed with Almodovar’s traditional gaudy colors from the opening credits featuring red roses, lingerie-cladded female catalog ads, and bright red lipstick. Also, Pepa may inhabit a screwball world, but her character keeps her head together and maintains her dignity—she actually acts quite nobly in the end.

Is this the same Almodóvar who brought forth the disturbing imagery of Matador and opened a few tear ducts with All About My Mother? No so this time. The opening credits signal that we are in for some playful fun, and the ensemble cast delivers. Like the cab car that can offer a drugstore full of necessities and any kind of music we want, this time Almodóvar offers the mamba.



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