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  • Post last modified:March 5, 2021

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: Burning Beds and Spiked Gazpachos

This comedy became the film that brought worldwide fame to director Pedro Almódovar, as well as an Oscar nomination. He had been working together with the actress Carmen Maura since 1980 when she starred in his first movie, Pepi, Luci, Bom, and they continued their collaboration throughout the decade – until, suddenly, they wouldn’t speak to each other anymore some time after Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. She had helped him become famous and Almódovar went on to have a huge career as one of Europe’s greatest filmmakers. It seems like two very different personalities just clashed and went their separate ways after years of extracting the best out of each other. This film will always stand as one of their finest achievements.

Dubbing foreign films
Pepa Marcos (Maura) and Iván (Fernando Guillén) are both actors, dubbing foreign films. With his great voice, Iván has never found it hard to attract women, but his relationship with Pepa is about to go down in flames. He’s leaving her for reasons that are not initially clear, and Pepa is not taking it well. As she’s trying to deal with practical issues concerning the break-up, leading to erratic decisions like setting fire to their bed, other people are invading her life and apartment.

They include Candela (María Barranco) who has far more pressing romantic problems than Pepa (involving terrorists). Then there’s the timid Carlos (Antonio Banderas) and the domineering Marisa (Rossy de Palma), a couple who are looking to rent Pepa’s apartment; Carlos happens to be Iván’s son. Spiked gazpacho makes matters worse…

Swimming in pastel colors
Almódovar was inspired by Jean Cocteau’s classic play ”The Human Voice” from 1930, a drama featuring only one character, an actress who is on the phone with her former lover who is about to marry another woman. The director started thinking about how we’re all on the verge of a nervous breakdown when a relationship ends and put some of his own experiences, and that of a friend, into the movie (which was not appreciated by the friend). Almódovar is not the kind of filmmaker who wouldn’t pay absolute attention to detail; he knew what the apartment should look like. This was to be a film swimming in pastel colors and the chickens that Pepa keeps on her terrace were allowed to wander freely on set. Cinematographer José Luis Alcaine captures the chaos and colors of the film in all their majesty, helping create a style that audiences all over the world would forever associate with Spain and Almódovar. The style wasn’t new to this director, but Women on the Verge… was the one that caught all the attention.

As expected, all the women look gorgeous but not in a plastic way; their clothes and appearances are all special and carefully designed, including de Palma, a singer AlmĂłdovar met in Madrid in 1986 by chance and found intriguing. Incidentally, she was the one who insisted he find her something to do while her character was knocked out from the gazpacho; after an argument, he came up with the idea of Marisa having an orgasm in her sleep!

It’s a crazy farce that gets more intense as it goes along. People tend to remember the drugstore cab, but my favorite is the commercial where Pepa plays the cheerful mother of a murderer who uses a detergent so efficient it gets rid of any blood stain. 

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown 1988-Spain. 88 min. Color. Produced, written and directed by Pedro Almódovar. Cinematography: José Luis Alcaine. Cast: Carmen Maura (Pepa Marcos), Antonio Banderas (Carlos), Julieta Serrano (Lucía), María Barranco, Rossy de Palma, Kiti Mánver.

Trivia: Original title: Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios. Later a Broadway musical.

European Film Awards: Best Actress (Maura), Young Film. Venice: Best Actress (Maura), Screenplay. 

Last word: “Although it’s not biographical, my films do reflect whatever I was going through at the time. Back then, I would come through the door and, if the answer machine was blinking, I was happy. If there was nothing, I felt a terrible uncertainty. I was trying to talk about abandonment, about misunderstanding between women and men. […] I often start writing with an idea of my own, or someone else’s, and in the process discover something else I really want to write. The first idea disappears – but it has an important place because it’s the thing that pushed you.” (AlmodĂłvar, The Guardian)



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