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Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (DVD, 2009)
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Gazpacho as a weapon of mass destruction
Dec 17, 2010
Review by Stephen Murray
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Maura, potent gazpacho
Cons:takes a while to build momentum
The Bottom Line: slow start to fast ride of Spanish absuridity
I remembered “Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown” (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios , 1988) as being the funniest of Pedro Almodóvar’s late-1980s films. Through the first half hour of watching it again, I was wondering whether my memory had failed me. The last hour reassured me both about my memory and the continuity of my evaluation.
Recommend this product?
Though extreme (and, as usual, very red), the first half hour is melodrama with Pepa (Carmen Maura), who dubs soap operas and appears in her role as the mother of a serial killer on a detergent ad (the detergent cleans the bloodstains), has broken up with Ivan and puts her Madrid penthouse on the market. She manages to burn her bed (without anyone being in it: I mean literally!) and dumps sleeping pills in the gazpacho in her blender.
Not just because it is red, I remembered the gazpacho playing a major role in the movie. Pepa is in almost every scene. Her friend Candela (María Barranco) is frantically trying to call Pepa, even as Pepa is waiting for Ivan to call. Candela has been harboring a Shi’ite terrorist and his two friends. They have been arrested and Candela is afraid to go home.
Soon a young couple comes to look at the apartment. The shy, polite, bespectacled boy, Carlos, is Ivan’s son and played by Antonio Banderas. His fiancée with a very prominent proboscis, played by another Almodóvar regular, Rossy de Palma, is the first person to be neutralized into unconsciousness with some of the gazpacho. She will lose her virginity at least in a dream while under the influence of barbiturates.
Then there are the policeman, and finally, Ivan’s wife, Lucia (Julieta Serrano), who has gotten out of an insane asylum where she’s been pretty much her son’s whole life. Lucía is convinced that Ivan is going away (on the flight the Shi’ites plan to blowup) with Pepa. He is going away with a woman all right, but it is the feminist attorney Paulina Morales (Kiti Manver) whom Carlos recommended. Paulina does not get into the apartment, but is hit in the head by an LP Pepa flings out the window. Plus her car is hit by the answering machine Pepa throws out, and Ivan’s suitcase lands in a dumpster next to her car, so that Paulina retrieves it.
There are many farcical turns, only some involving the gazpacho that Ivan adores, I wouldn’t want to fail to mention the taxi driver with a blond pompadour who adds eyedrops to the store of conveniences his passengers may rent.
The males are fickle, but conflict-averse and easily dominated by the females. The females vary in degrees of depression and feel they are victims of their male lovers. Carlos is the most completely dominated, but while the cat is unconscious, he mouse plays with Candela…
The last hour is entertaining farce and worth the first half hour of puzzling setup. I like it better than “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” and “Matador,” but not as much as “Law of Desire” and in the post-Banderas, post-Maura period, “Bad Education.” The boundary between overwrought melodrama and black comedy is blurred in Almodóvar’s 1980s movies. Since then, there have been absurdist twinges, but extreme melodrama has dominated, and I have been less enthusiastic than many others about Almodóvar’s “women’s pictures” however bright the colors on display in them than in his earlier farces.
The DVD has no bonus features, not even a trailer. The colors remain vivid at least!
©2010, Stephen O. Murray
4 Foshizzlee's foreign film writeoff
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