Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios / Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodóvar, 1988)

Julieta Serrano
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Screenwriter: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Carmen Maura, Maria Barranco, Julieta Serrano, Antonio Banderas, Rossy De Palma, Kiti Manver, Fernando Guillen, Chus Lampreave.
Synopsis: Ivan (Guillen) has left Pepa (Maura). As she alternately tries to track him down around Madrid and waits for his call at home, a range of people (including her friend Candela (Barranco), on the run from the police for harbouring Shi’ite terrorists, the son she never knew Ivan had (Banderas), and Ivan’s unhinged wife (Serrano)) drop by her apartment to further complicate her life. With added Mambo Taxi.

This was Almodóvar’s breakout international hit and the film that, along with All About My Mother, seems to have found his broadest audience –certainly in my own experience, this is a film that most people have heard of, even if they haven’t seen it. It is a comedy but that label barely covers all that it contains –screwball tragic-comedy might be nearer the mark- because while it is undeniably funny, it also contains heartfelt and believable emotion. If you’ve never seen an Almodóvar film, this is a good place to start.


Michael Pattison said...

I saw it for the first time the other night and I'm now reading Peter William Evans' book on it (we're studying it across two seminars for "Screen Aesthetics").

I enjoyed it; I saw Law of Desire in 2005, which was my first Almodóvar film; I've seen his more recent films since but no other '80s stuff.

It's very funny, and there's this kinetic tension between kitsch (mise-en-scene) and naturalism (performance(s), 'tone'). It might be the best PA film I've seen - actual discussion on it will confirm this, I guess.

And yet, and yet... I'll have to put it down to personal preference, but I'm less a fan these days of films too self-conscious of their own cleverness. That's much to admire here but I have difficulty 'connecting' with it on another level.

Undecided as to whether or not 'another level' exists.

Rebecca said...

I think that the tension between the naturalistic performance styles and the often outlandish situations (in terms of both plot and space) that his characters find themselves in, is a key part of the distinctiveness of his cinema. I think that's especially true of the films that Carmen Maura appears in -Law of Desire is a case in point (think of the scene where she tells her amnesiac brother her life story), and I'm not sure that Women on the Verge... would be regarded with so much affection if it wasn't for her very human performance at the centre of all the madcap goings-on.
As to whether 'another level' exists or not -we don't experience a film in a uniform way, sometimes a film has something in it that 'speaks' to us in a way that it doesn't for the person sitting next to us. For example, a lot of people *really* like The Skin I Live In, but I didn't 'connect' to it. The good thing about Almodóvar's films is that they are always multi-layered -they repay repeat viewings. I will return to The Skin I Live In because there are elements that I find interesting / intriguing, but I don't think it'll ever become one of my favourites of his films.
A recommendation: Mark Allinson's book, 'A Spanish Labyrinth: The Films of Pedro Almodóvar', is a good one -he has chapters on cinematic and socio-cultural space, visual style, and performance.
Anyway, I hope you have a good discussion in the seminar.

Michael Pattison said...

Yeah, sorry, my last line there is a bit confusing. It should probably read, "I'm not sure if 'another level' needs to exist" - or something.

Put another way, it's perhaps unfair to expect the film to hit me more than it did, as if it's somehow still insufficient that a film works on the levels Women on the Verge clearly does.

With films and filmmakers like this - very self-conscious, knowingly indebted to previous films, and so on - there's plenty to engage with; it just comes down to personal preference, as I said above. It's there, and you can discuss it or not discuss, according to inclination. Like I said, it's very self-conscious in that way.

I finished the BFI Classics book on it, at any rate. I guess I'm no longer as interested in the Freudian stuff it supposes as I once could have been - though I do think the film can be read in other, 'non-sexualised' ways.

Rebecca said...

Yes, for me it varies according to inclination and the specifics of a particular film -I don't tend to approach a film intending to use theory X to think about it. And personal inclination obviously shifts over time -I find that using something intensively for an in-depth piece of work quite often kills off my desire to ever use it again! :)

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