Pedro Almodovar is one of the most recognisable names in world cinema. His colourful movies are famous for their combination of melodrama and black comedy, as well as their lurid aesthetic that enhances the already gaudy colour grade. He makes films that are bright, camp and occasionally somewhat shocking. ‘Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down’, ‘All About My Mother’ and ‘Volver’ share a place among the most famous foreign language films – so much so that they effectively launched the careers of Hollywood actors like Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.
Another of Pedro Almodovar’s talents is his rare gift, as a male filmmaker, for directing women. Throughout his career, women have been at the forefront of his pictures. They almost always occupy a starring role and his stories concern themselves with themes of womanhood, female identity and so on. This is especially the case with his 1988 comedy ‘Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown’, the film that propelled Pedro Almodovar into the international spotlight.
The movie is an ensemble piece about women who are suffering because of the actions of men. The main character Pepa has gone through a break-up with her partner Ivan. Ivan’s ex-wife Lucia, meanwhile, wants payback for years he forced her to stay in an asylum. Then, there is Pepa’s best friend Candela who is wanted for providing lodgings to terrorists. Pepa’s lawyer Paulina, who she contacts to help her friend, is having an affair with the aforementioned Ivan.
Their paths ultimately cross in a series of madcap set pieces but although the film is deliberately exaggerated – the heightened style and ridiculous plot validate this, as does Almodovar’s occasional use of model sets that purposely highlight that what we’re watching is a movie – there is raw emotion that drives the narrative beneath the artificial veneer: the ways these women deal with anguish and attempt to take back control of their lives.
‘Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown’ is 11th in our ranking of the best movies of 1988. You can find the full list in our 1988 Year In Review series.