What Have I Done to Deserve This? (Pedro Almodóvar, 1984)

01Jul11

Carmen Maura (Gloria). Screenplay by Pedro Almodóvar. Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Rating: 18. Running time: 101 minutes.

When I reviewed Women on the Verge the other day I described Pedro’s early period as ‘inconsistent,’ and it was confusingly poor but compelling efforts like this that I had in mind. What Have I Done to Deserve This? is a Madrid-based Italian Neo-Realist piece with the touch of a perverted punk. That is, it’s Almodóvar filming amongst the poor and about the poor with his typically dark humour scattered all over things. If any comparisons were possible it would be to Godard’s similarly grounded and predictably odd and political 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle, but this is largely a stand-alone freak fest. Carmen Maura plays Gloria, a mother frantically shuffling half a dozen jobs and house chores. The absurdities lie in her as well as around her, but it’s the latter that leave us particularly perplexed: a lizard adopted and brought into the family’s awful flat by the wooden stick-collecting and chicken-bone sucking grandmother; the male dentist showing a sexual interest in Gloria’s son who she allows to go and live with him; her prostitute-friend that lives next door and cab-driving handwriting-forger husband…

Yes, this is the type of quirky world you can only create on screen and in an Almodóvar movie, and if the aim was to spice the details up which surround this otherwise conventional, critical look at female oppression, the aim is easily fulfilled. They do not achieve the laughs, however, that Pedro might have expected. The audience at the BFI was stone-cold silent in comparison to the other night. It’s hard to pin down why, but for some reason the film comes across as damn weird without also being funny. Those trained eyes and ears acquainted with his style may be able to get something out of it, but the Pedro-virgin would be wise to avoid this at first, for fear of being put off his normally completely watchable work for life.

This isn’t strictly speaking bad; it’s just deeply unappetising. The difference being that it does, unlike The Hangover Part 2, have a mind behind it with artistically decent and fairly well executed intentions. They just turn out to be a little too twisted, a little like a bonkers Hong Kong chef that’s excellent at his craft, but serves up something like a lamb shank blended in a martini glass when you ask him for his best dish. I’m sure in some strange sense it’s ‘objectively’ brilliant, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’d pick a smoothie, or Volver, any day of the week. To be avoided only second to Kika.

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