Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) – Pedro Almodovar

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The next title on the comedy list in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book is this little Spanish gem that I had heard of, but had never seen.

Once I got into it, I quite enjoyed it, the first half of the film I found to be more dramatic and set-up, but things really start to come together halfway through the film, and I was quite enjoying myself as the film raced to its final conclusion.

Pepa (Carmen Maura) has been left by her lover, Ivan (Fernando Guillen), a fellow voice-over artist, and she just wants to talk to him and find out why. She’s not necessarily looking for reconciliation, just answers.

While she’s dealing with this, Ivan’s ex-wife, the slightly unstable, Lucia (Julieta Serrano), wants to kill him, and detests the son, Carlos (Antonio Banderas), that she shares with him.

Conveniently enough, Carlos and his girlfriend, Marisa (Rossy de Palma) are seeking to rent an apartment, and Pepa’s is up for sublet, so they show up at her door. But not before Pepa’s friend, Candela (Maria Barranco) does with problems of her own…

It seems Candela has fallen for the wrong man who has revealed himself to be a Shiite terrorist, and he’s involved with a plan to hijack a flight to Stockholm that night, which Ivan, and his new girlfriend, Paulina (Kiti Manver), a feminist lawyer, are planning on travelling on.

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All of their trails keep crisscrossing as all of them try to find the elusive Ivan, or each other, as they seek out resolution and answers, while things around them seem to get worse and worse.

Pepa’s bed is lit afire, the phone gets destroyed (twice), an answering machine is tossed out the window, spiked gazpacho lay a number of people out cold, a biker is taken hostage on the way to the airport, and a poor taxi driver (Guillermo Montesinos) keeps picking up Pepa at the most trying times of her life.

New love blossoms, phone calls are made, police and repairmen wander in and out, and Pepa is trying to hold it all together. And Maura does the same by playing her character. She plays everything straight, and makes you feel her pain. She’s had her whole world upended, and she just wants to know why.

It’s the characters around her who help provide the comedy, whether through dialogue, or circumstances, but Pepa’s pain is at the core of the film, and the final scene between her and Ivan, I loved. She has spent the entire film trying to find him, to get an answer, and then, upon literally saving him, she realizes she doesn’t need him anymore, and walks away a stronger woman. That was nice.

This one ended up being a delightful romp, and while not quite laugh out loud funny, I did really enjoy it, and am looking forward to digging into the recommendations that flow from it.

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