“Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown” Is High Farce In A World Of Make Believe

This film lover has had something uniquely spiky lavished on his retina never to be forgotten. Welcome then to Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown. Martin Carr reviews one of Pedro Almodovar’s much-loved early films.

Pedro Almodovar films are not well known to me. However the ones I have watched always made me feel better coming out the other side. You feel intellectually invigorated whatever the subject, because he applies himself, asks questions and seeks to promote discussion. Until today I had missed out on what some consider to be a seminal classic in the Almodovar cannon. That wrong has now been righted and this film lover has had something uniquely spiky lavished on his retina never to be forgotten. Welcome then to Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown.


Economical in production values but no worse for it, this is high farce coupled with domestic drama, emotional upheaval and characters defined by their avoidance or detachment from society. Ensconced within her world of make believe Pepa is savagely brought to life by Carmen Maura. A high strung, well known actress and mistress to a colleague and her co-worker Ivan. Almodovar’s blue touch paper premise takes one moment, then escalates it inevitably towards the heights of a Joe Orton play.


Characters are broadly drawn but realistic, situations exaggerated but somehow within the realms of the real. There is a sensual, sexual feeling to the film which comes I suspect from the origins of both writer/director and stars. Were this relocated to Esher for example, you get the impression that such circumstances would be deemed ridiculous and dismissed out of hand. But there in lies the beauty as these characters are observed rather than directed making things feel somehow more organic.

There is a certain sardonic, sarcastic and rapier type wit, coupled with a unique social commentary which is doubtless of its time. Yet the fact Banderas, Maura and Barranco let their dialogue do the work, makes for a good balance between comment and physical performance. Which alongside the twin themes of infidelity and personal trauma displays a lightness of touch and essential maturity. Couple that with moments of pitch black humour perfectly placed within the whole to wrong foot your audience and you have something special.


So then to recommend Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown as a comedic kitchen sink drama is accurate, but underselling something which had more to say in 1988 and probably has as much to contribute now. Almodovar not only garnered an Oscar nomination from this, but began his career long commitment to putting Spanish language film in the spotlight. Unfortunately people are never happy with merely appreciating and leaving well alone, but feel the need to remake, exploit and ultimately firebomb the memory of such seminal classics. Thankfully this film has avoided such a travesty although a musical version was trialled off Broadway to bad reviews, then transferred to London for better ones. People it would seem never learn.


5 / 5 Stars.