Thursday, January 17, 2013

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) is the story of an actress who has been dumped by her married lover as she goes into despair and tries to find him as she learns more about herself. The film is a comedy that explores a woman dealing with heartbreak as she finds herself in a strange situation and eventually finds reason for not needing a man. Starring Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano, Rossy de Palma, and Maria Barranco. Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios is a wild yet sensational film from Pedro Almodovar.

After splitting up from her longtime lover Ivan (Fernando Guillen), Pepa (Carmen Maura) is in despair over the breakup as she receives a message from him asking her to pack his things in a suitcase that he’ll pick up later. Pepa is a TV actress who also does dubbing for English-language films as she is obsessed with needing to talk to Ivan but he’s never around. After waiting to get messages from him, all Pepa receives are frantic phone messages from her friend Candela (Maria Barranco) who later arrives to Pepa’s penthouse apartment revealing she’s in trouble. Also arriving shortly to the penthouse are a young couple in Carlos (Antonio Banderas) and his fiancée` Marisa (Rossy de Palma) who are interested in renting Pepa’s penthouse. Carlos is revealed to be Ivan’s son from a previous marriage as they learn who Pepa is while they save Candela from trying to kill herself.

After Candela revealed that she had an affair with a man who she learned is a Shiite terrorist, Marisa had drank some gazpacho that had been spiked with sleeping pills as she fell asleep. While Pepa had to do errands, Carlos stays at the apartment to fix the phone while helping out Candela with her situation where he makes a quick phone call to the police about what the Shiite terrorists are doing. Under Carlos’s suggestion to help Candela, Pepa sees the renowned feminist lawyer Paulina Morales (Kiti Manver) who acts strangely towards Pepa who returns home where she gets a call from Carlos’ mother Lucia (Julieta Serrano) who wants to talk to Pepa about Ivan as she plans to arrive to the apartment for a confrontation.

Overwhelmed by Ivan and all of his work, Pepa decides to get rid of the suitcase as she receives another message from as she, Carlos, and Candela listen where Pepa thinks something is going on. Later that night when Lucia arrives with two cops and a phone repairman, Pepa realizes how crazy Lucia is as well as who Ivan is going to Stockholm with.

The film is the story of two crazy days in the life of a heartbroken woman who is lost over her break-up while learning that her lover is leaving on a trip. Meanwhile, a few people such as a troubled friend and a young couple arrive to the penthouse for different reasons as they later become part of this woman’s messy life where they all help each other throughout this chaos involving Shiite terrorists, spiked gazpacho, a burned bed, a suitcase, and all sorts of things. Adding to the chaos is this mentally ill woman who is the wife of this woman’s lover as she just got out of the hospital and wants to kill her husband for all of the bad things that happened to her. All of it leads to a huge confrontation that is over-the-top while this heartbroken woman also has something she wants to tell to her lover.

Pedro Almodovar’s screenplay definitely explores the world of heartbreak as well as the role women play in a relationship. With the exception of Carlos, the Mambo cab driver (Guillermo Montesinos), and few other minor characters, men are portrayed as those who don’t treat women very well and are always lying. Carlos is the big exception as he’s just a very sensitive person who is engaged to a snobby woman as he has a hard time dealing with his mentally ill mother and a father he barely knows. In Pepa, Carlos finds someone who is like a mother that treats him well while he becomes one of the few men in the lives of these women who is very dependable and knows how to treat someone. Even as someone as troubled and naïve as Candela whom he falls for as she knows she’s a mess as she clings on to Carlos because he is honest and is willing to listen.

Still, the film is about Pepa and her tribulations over her break-up as she feels angry over what Ivan has done to her as she feels like she’s done a lot in the relationship. Still, she has something to tell as she does whatever to just talk to him yet he is never around or is always trying to reach her. While Candela and Carlos help her out as they would often converse over Ivan, there are still people that Pepa has to deal with that would cause trouble. The first is Carlos’ mother Lucia who has just learned that her husband has been unfaithful even though she hadn’t seen him in years. The other is a feminist lawyer named Paulina who is supposed to help Pepa about Candela’s tryst with a terrorist yet she acts rudely to Pepa that adds to the confusion. Eventually, it would comedown to a confrontation between Pepa and Lucia that involves a chase and two guns.

Almodovar’s direction is just intoxicating to watch in the way he presents the film not just as a genre-bending feminist film of sorts but something much more. There’s melodrama, there’s slapstick comedy, there’s a bit of action, a bit of suspense, and romance. Yet, Almodovar manages to infuse all of these genres into a film that has something for everyone yet makes it about a woman’s journey to get over her lover and find something for herself. Through his unique approach to framing as well as staging, it’s a film that is a mixture of freewheeling European cinema with a dash of old-school Hollywood as the scenes inside Pepa’s apartment features a backdrop of Madrid. It plays to a world that is Pepa where it is surrounded by extravagance including ducks, rabbits, and chickens who live outside on her balcony.

While Pepa’s apartment might seem like a world that is artificial though it features reminders of her reality, the world outside of that in downtown Madrid is much different. It’s crueler but also offbeat courtesy of this Mambo-loving taxi driver who always have something for his passengers. Pepa would find a way to deal with her situation that does include this confrontation between herself and Lucia. The confrontation definitely plays to the idea of a western where it doesn’t just involve guns but something else. It is a very strange approach to the showdown but it’s done with a degree of style as it alludes to a similar showdown in Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar that is referenced earlier in a scene where Ivan is dubbing dialogue as Sterling Hayden’s character. It is all part of Almodovar’s extravagant presentation that leads to a chase and a climax that is quite big in a comical way. Overall, Almodovar creates a dazzling and fun film about heartbreak and independence.

Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine does great work with the film‘s lush and colorful cinematography with the look of the gorgeous locations in Madrid in day and night to the look of Pepa‘s apartment that is filled with lots of color. Editor Jose Salcedo does brilliant work with the editing from the way he plays with the rhythms of the humor and drama to the effective use of cutting in some of the film‘s suspenseful moments including the climatic chase scene. Set decorators Emilio Canuelo and Felix Murcia do amazing work with the look of Pepa’s apartment that is filled with all sorts of colors including an inspired use of the backdrop outside of her apartment.

Costume designer Jose Maria De Cossio does wonderful work with the costumes from the stylish clothes of Pepa to the more youthful clothing of Candela. The sound work of Gilles Ortion is terrific for the intimacy that is created in the scenes at the apartment along with the scenes in Madrid. The film’s music by Bernardo Bonezzi is excellent for its mixture of suspenseful-driven music as well as more low-key dramatic pieces and other themes to play up the humor while the soundtrack features mambo music from the cab driver and songs by Lola Beltran that serves as an important piece to play up Pepa’s emotions.

The film’s incredible ensemble cast features some noteworthy performances from Almodovar regular Chus Lampreave as an apartment porter who is a Jehovah’s witness, Ana Leza as Pepa’s young neighbor Ana, Loles Leon as a secretary where Pepa works at, Angel de Andres Lopez and Jose Antonio Navarro as the policemen who arrive with Lucia late in the film, and Guillermo Montesinos as the Mambo taxi driver who is a fan of Pepa’s TV work. Kiti Manver is good as the bitchy lawyer Paulina Morales who is rude to Pepa while Rossy de Palma is very funny as Carlos’ snobby fiancée Marisa. Fernando Guillen is wonderful as Ivan who is always sly and trying to win over whoever with his voice and charm.

Julieta Serrano is amazing as the very troubled Lucia who is angry over her husband’s infidelity as she is eager to confront Pepa. Maria Barranco is great as the naïve Candela who finds herself in trouble with Shiite terrorists whom she had been wooed by as she seeks help from Pepa and later Carlos. Antonio Banderas is superb as the sensitive Carlos as a man who exudes all of the good qualities of a man as he becomes the one person that Pepa and Candela can count on. Finally, there’s Carmen Maura in a marvelous performance as Pepa as she displays an energy to her role as a woman upset over her heartbreak as well as someone who realizes how far she’s gone because of a man where she later finds out what she really needs.

Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios is an incredible film from Pedro Almodovar. Featuring an exhilarating performance from Carmen Maura along with wonderful supporting work from Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano, and Maria Barranco. The film is definitely one of Almodovar’s finest films as well as a great starting to point to those new to the filmmaker. In the end, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios is a phenomenal film from Pedro Almodovar.

Pedro Almodovar Films: Pepi, Luci, Bom - Labyrinth of Passion - Dark Habits - What Have I Done to Deserve This? - Matador - Law of Desire - Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! - High Heels - Kika - The Flower of My Secret - Live Flesh - All About My Mother - Talk to Her - Bad Education - Volver - Broken Embraces - The Skin I Live In - I’m So Excited! - Julieta - Pain & Glory - (The Human Voice (2020 short film)) - (Parallel Mothers)

The Auteurs #37: Pedro Almodovar Pt. 1 - Pt. 2

© thevoid99 2013


David said...

I love this film, Almodovar's "soap opera" is something really unique. I still need to see his What Have I Done to Deserve This?, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Bad Education and Volver, Law of Desire is highly recommended.

thevoid99 said...

For me, the films of Almodovar I need to see are everything he's done from his first film to Law of Desire, the two films he did with Victoria Abril that I haven't seen, and the new one that's coming which looks hilarious.