Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios


Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios
Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown (1988)
   Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios brought the consecration of Pedro Almodovar as a major filmmaker after the problematic reception of the excessively gay (for some critics) La ley del deseo (Law of Desire, 1987), and the film was rewarded with five Goyas (including best film, Almodóvar for best script, and Carmen Maura as lead actress) and 11 further nominations. In the best director category, Almodóvar lost to Gonzalo Suárez, responsible for the earnest, literary Remando al viento (Rowing with the Wind, 1988). The film went on to a triumphant international career. It was nominated for a plethora of international awards, including by the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, and it was distributed in the United States by Orion pictures, which immediately bought an option for a Hollywood version starring Jane Fonda or Whoopi Goldberg, to be directed by Herbert Ross, which never materialized.
   One key source of inspiration for Almodóvar was Jean Cocteau's La voix humaine (which had also been featured in La ley del deseo), but the dramatis personae grew to a gallery of perfectly defined characters whose lives intercrossed in a clockwork, finely threaded plot. The film followed a small group of women whose mental stability is endangered by cold, uncommunicative men. Pepa (Carmen Maura), the central character, is an actress (specialized in dubbing films) who desperately tries to speak to her ex-partner Iván before he leaves for a long trip. Her friend Candela (María Barranco) has been betrayed by her terrorist lovers and seeks refuge in Pepa's flat, where she coincides with young couple Carlos (Antonio Banderas) and Marisa (Rossy de Palma), prospective tenants. Marisa is cold and remains an unsatisfied woman who has never been sexually fulfilled (she will be before the end of the film). Then there is Lucía (Julieta Serrano), Iván's ex-wife who has been in a mental hospital since the 1960s and who clings to the fashions of the period.
   Although comedy had been a staple of Spanish film in the 1960s, these quick, low-quality films were impossible to export and unfunny to foreign audiences. There was something embarrassing about the Gracita Morales vehicles, and they had become a critical cliché of the kind of cinema to be derided. No matter how great their popularity, this was not the kind of quality film to be supported in Socialist-governed Spain. In many ways, however, they remain Almodóvar's inspiration, explicit in the character of Julieta Serrano as a woman interned in a sanatorium since the 1960s and refusing to believe time has passed.
   But Almodóvar combined other important influences. The flat color patterns and surfaces had something of the light comedies by Stanley Donen or Vincent Minnelli in Hollywood during the 1950s and early 1960s. The sexual cheekiness was very Spanish, had been prominent throughout Almodóvar's career and had its roots in the spirit of the movida and the modernity that had installed itself in the country after Francisco Franco's death. Finally, he combined these elements with a female-centered perspective, which sometimes suggested, no matter how ironically, Hollywood melodramas.
   As in theatrical vaudeville, the rhythm was hectic and there was a certain unity of time (one day from the moment Pepa woke up until she was ready to go to bed) and space (Almodóvar has drawn attention to the similarities between Pepa's spacious flat and the one the protagonists of Jean Negulesco's How to Marry a Millionaire inhabit).

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.