Dark, surreal, colourful, hilarious. In Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown a frustrated and recently dumped Pepa (Carmen Maura) throws a whole load of sleeping pills in her gazpacho. She keeps calling her ex lover Iván (Fernando Guillén) who is now ignoring her as he is dating a feminist. She sets her bed on fire, packs all his things in a suitcase and throws the phone out of the window. Her best friend (María Barranco) shows up afraid that the police is after her as she might have been implicated in a terrorist attack. A guest friend accidentally drinks the gazpacho, the police pays Pepa a visit, Iván’s wife (Julieta Serrano) is just out of the mental institution and eager to go back and his son Carlos (Antonio Banderas) is a clueless witness inside a female madness which has been primarily caused by men as clueless as him.
Pedro Almodóvar’s dark comedy is crazy but truthful. Complicated and confusing, but at the same time a simple case of suppressed female frustration breaking loose, heartbreak and ultimately several nervous breakdowns that would sooner or later happen. The film was released in 1988 and sparked widespread international interest. It stars Carmen Maura, María Barranco, Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano and Rossy de Palma. All actors have perfect comical/neurotic timing and Carmen Maura admittedly takes her character to the highest level possible. She’s realistic while outrageous, obsessed while reasonable. She exaggerates nothing, but still all the frustration she is experiencing shines through convincingly. And although she looks like she’s constantly close to losing it, she still always manages to grab on to that little bit of sanity she has left right the last minute and convince us all that she is indeed fully there.
Almodóvar’s love for women is not a secret and he has never tried to hide it. He wants them beautiful, dynamic, passionate and when possible, in heels. He portrays them as they are, flawed and at the same time perfect, warm but hysterical, needing love and attention and going crazy when they don’t get back what they give, insecure but strong, saving people’s lives as well as their own and at the same time setting everything on fire and destroying whoever gets in their way when they’re heartbroken. The writer-director is fascinated by his female characters and so are we. They’re out of control and we feel they have every reason to be. We sympathise and we applaud them for being honest.
The colours are there and they play a big part in the story too. Almodóvar’s famous bright colours take the front seat and have a little nervous breakdown of their own. Passionate red suits, unnaturally green plants, bright orange and yellow furniture. Everything is intense and extreme and everything inspires obsession, madness and bizarre comedy. His script is filled with farce situations and crazy dialogue that is never elaborated on or discussed. Each absurd line just follows the previous one and eventually everyone just says their own thing. And although there is plenty of interaction, zero communication is achieved.
His direction is beautiful, absorbing and utterly feminine. Pedro Almodóvar achieves just the right balance between a black comedy and a surreal melodrama and delivers a pitch-perfect colourful film on the outside and a dark comedy on the inside. You watch Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown once, you’re left puzzled but entertained. You watch it twice, you’re stunned by its skilfulness and honesty.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at IMDb
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at Rotten Tomatoes
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at Wikipedia
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb