Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

“A minute ago she wanted to go home but since you ignored her, she got depressed and had some gazpacho.”

‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’, directed by Pedro Almodóvar in 1988, is a Spanish black comedy. Pepa, played by Carmen Maura has been dumped by Ivan, but unknown to him she is pregnant with his unborn child. She then accidentally runs into his son from a previous relationship and ends up having an informal party with her ‘stepson’, her suicidal best friend, her stepson’s girlfriend, two policemen and a blender filled with gazpacho soup doped with sleeping pills. It’s a riotous, farcical movie that includes many of the themes of his later film ‘All About My Mother’, but with a lighter touch. Almodóvar wears his melodramatic sources on his sleeve – Pepa and Ivan are voice-over artists dubbing American movies, in this case ‘Johnny Guitar’, but oddly his film is based on a Jean Cocteau play about a woman on the telephone with the man she’s broken up with. There seems to be a running theme of broken communication throughout the film from the dubbing of the American movie, through Ivan’s use of his ‘dubbing’ voice when wooing, to Pepa’s frustration with and repeated destruction of her telephone. It’s about fractured and disjointed ways of talking, through much of the film telephones act as barriers to communication, and when the characters get together in Pepa’s flat, an abstract and purposefully fake looking set, they still have problems speaking mostly because Pepa accidentally drugs many of her visitors. It’s a fun, colourful film that appears to be superficial, but the superficiality is intentional comment on the communication problems of modern life. It would be interesting to see what the movie would look like in the age of social media.

Would I recommend it – Yes! It’s witty, engaging and provocative. I’d watch it before ‘All About My Mother’ to get a sense of the themes and Almodóvar’s preoccupations before going deeper.

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