Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodóvar, 1988)


Carmen Maura (Pepa), Antonio Banderas (Carlos), Rossy de Palma (Marisa). Screenplay by Pedro Almodóvar. Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Rating: 12. Running time: 90 minutes.

If you’ve seen any Almodóvar films at all, then you’ll be aware by now that any and all of them sound stupid when their plots are penned to paper, the reason for which is blindingly simple: the plots are stupid. But as well as being bonkers they are so often confusingly brilliant, and in that respect Women on the Verge is no exception. It is also, however, the standout member of the old school Almodóvar oeuvre. Ever since All About My Mother Pedro has been making maturer – that is, more serious – and probably better films. But none have the fuck-you-Franco freedom of his early efforts which were inconsistently great, and at times pretty poor, but overall bursting with a level of energy one cannot help but admire and revel in.

Just consider: Pepa, a lovestruck actress with a penthouse apartment suffers depression when her partner leaves her, remaining desperate to hear from him whilst also juggling her job, the renting out of her property and the worries of her anxious friend. The latter has been bonking around with what has turned out to be a Shiite terrorist, and is shit-scared of guilt by association. The couple interested in renting her apartment turns out to include the son of her ex-lover, a geeky Antonio Banderas whose girlfriend zonks out early on after sipping Pepa’s sleeping-pill spiked gazpacho. Soon the Shiite associate is attempting to jump off the balcony, Pepa is racing around Madrid trying to track down her lost lover, and another woman this man was previously with is on a similar mission and ends up holding Pepa at gunpoint before heading off on a Harley Davidson to find and shoot their man dead.

It’s an outrageous, modern slapstick black laugh-a-minute brimming with Almodóvar’s razor-sharp dialogue and eye for absurdity, and at a mere but sensible 90 minutes he’s able to sustain, and we’re able to feel, the manic pace that the film’s humour depends upon. It’s been a while since he has created comedic sequences as rich and extended as these. Volver and All About My Mother have their moments, but it would be nice to see his new muse, Penelope, get her teeth into one of these mental characters that Carmen Maura was so often blessed with. Either way, Women on the Verge will live on, as the earliest and most vivid sign of Pedro’s unique genius.

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