Before this, I’d never seen a Pedro Almodovar film before. Shocking, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, it’s always been on my list as something to do, knowing that he’s probably one of the most famous Spanish auteurs ever. So yes, I had to watch something, anything, by him. So it was good luck when my work threw up this fabulous opportunity to watch Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, his breakthrough film.
It stars Carmen Maura as Pepa, a woman desperate to know why her lover Ivan has left her over the space of two days. She goes to see Ivan’s wife and son, but they are just as clueless as she is. Meanwhile, Pepa’s friend Candela (Maria Barranco) is convinced that the police are searching for her after she slept with a member of a Shiite terrorist cell. She turns up at Pepa’s flat and tries to commit suicide. Luckily, Pepa’s self-appointed son-in-law (through Ivan), Carlos (Antonio Banderas), turns up at the flat with his fiancée Marisa (Rossy De Palma) for a viewing and they help to pull her back up from the side of the building. Marisa accidentally drinks a gazpacho made by Pepa with a packet of sleeping pills in it while searching for water for Candela. And here starts a series of strange and farcical events where the characters get more tangled up in each others’ lives than they may have first anticipated.
The movie has more of the feel of a stage play than a full cinematic piece: most of the action takes place in Pepa’s flat, where the layout is pretty much open-plan with a huge terrace, and other locations are used frequently, such as the back seat of a Mambo Taxi and the studio where Pepa works. The backdrop on Pepa’s terrace also seems a little too fake, although it’s strange things like this that give the movie a quirky charm that is hard not to fall in love with.
The characters have a great deal of chemistry, where it’s hard not to believe the tangled up relationships between them. Each actor’s performance is also very strong, and the fact that Spanish is such a fast language lends well to the fact that some of the characters are losing their minds while others are simply panicking and highly-strung. Some of the costume, of course, is a little dated (hey, it was the 80s!) but apart from this detail you get the impression that this movie could have been made at any time and it still would have been fresh as a daisy.
Something about the film reminded me of some of the farcical situations of Woody Allen movies, which I was actually surprised at since Almodovar is known for his works in melodrama. But Women is hilarious and never seems try-hard. The laughs are genuine and even though the characters are suffering from hysteria most of the time, it’s not hard to sympathise with Pepa and her acquaintances. You even feel just that little bit sorry for her at the end. But hey, pathos is what great comedy is all about.