Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: Criterion Collection
March 23, 2017
Pedro Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) reflected a new chapter of Spanish culture, freed from tyranny and now under democratic leadership, which ushered in a new, vibrant youth culture where everything was permitted with the epicenter being Madrid. His film not only reflected it but in turn influenced it.
Pepa (Maura) and Ivan (Guillen) are an unhappy couple. They’re both actors that have drifted apart. One morning, he leaves her a message that makes her anxious. She tries to get a hold of him but is unsuccessful, which only adds to her anxiety. This comes out in unexpected ways like how she accidentally sets fire to their bed. She’s so surprised that she absent-mindedly throws her lit cigarette in the fire before putting it out!
One of the hallmarks of Almodovar’s films are its fully-realized female protagonists and Women on the Verge is no exception with Carmen Maura playing a fascinating, three-dimensional character. Pepa is strong but also has a touching vulnerability. She’s smart but often governed by her emotions.
Pepa sets the tone for the rest of the female characters, from her best friend Candela (Barranco) who’s involved with a Shiite terrorist, to the crazy ex-wife. It’s all rather absurd in a screwball comedy kind of way, right down to the theatrical staging of most scenes reminiscent of classic films by Preston Sturges or George Cukor. Like those films, the characters in Almodovar’s speak fast and find themselves in impossible situations that they must find a way out of – with hilarious results.
Women on the Verge is vintage Almodovar and the beginning of a series of colorful, outrageous comedies that satirized the conventions of Spanish culture while simultaneously celebrating the new, young generation. The film is a brilliant fusion of the old and the new as he adopted a classic screwball comedy template that presented a new and colorful Spanish culture.
Almodovar’s trademark vibrant colors look fantastic on this director’s approved transfer. The detail is fantastic and the filmic look as been preserved. I daresay, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown has never looked better.
Director Pedro Almodovar talks about his approach to comedy and how Women on the Verge was a celebration of color and the city of Madrid. He also talks about the origins of the film and how it was inspired by a Jean Cocteau play but gradually mutated into a screwball comedy. He also explains the look of the film, specifically the use of color.
Actress Carmen Maura is interviewed and briefly talks about how she became an actress. She talks about meeting Almodovar for the first time and her initial impressions of him. She’s refreshingly candid about her life, claiming that acting is the only thing she knows how to do well.
Producer (and Pedro’s brother) Austin Almodovar talks about working with his sibling and how Women on the Verge came to be. He recounts always helping Pedro with his films even back when he was a student shooting Super 8 movies with friends. He speaks eloquently about the themes in the film and the casting the women in the four pivotal roles.
Film professor and former programmer of the New York Film Festival Richard Pena recounts his first festival that he programmed and how he discovered Women on the Verge and decided to have it open the festival that year. He offers his interpretation of the film.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.