Telephone machines are bashed, there’s lots of clicking and crunching on the hard plastics of 1980s’ dial up phones and Madrid apparently has only one taxi driver with badly dyed blonde hair played by Guillermo Montesinos.
Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s 1988 screwball black comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is an enjoyably crazy film although not quite as crazy as the larger than life characters whose unpredictable behaviour keeps you guessing as to where the story is going. Is it really about the fickleness of modern relationships or is it as much about the freeing up of society in a post Franco Iberia?
The opening titles give a clue: this is about how women in the 1980s are supposed to behave – or rather were supposed to behave. Lipstick, nylons and designer dresses out of a catalogue – when they wanted to be themselves instead. The main protagonist Carmen Maura as Pepa Marcos is a free spirited celebrity recognised from her role in TV where ever she goes. The story is about how her frustrations boil over when her somewhat aged lover Ivan (Fernando Guillen) dumps her. It gets complicated when she meets his son Carlos (Antonio Banderas) and is caught up in her friend Candela’s relationships with terrorists played with an enjoyable skittishness by Maria Barranco.
There are some wonderfully chaotic scenes which include a fire, drugged policemen and an hilarious attempted suicide and some high octane arguments as the characters rattle out their words like machine guns. Rossy de Palma as snooty Marisa gave an outstanding performance with a face that could make house prices rise or fall depending whether she approved of the property or not – and she was in good company with the resourceful Carlos who served an unusual version of gazpacho to the cops.
Every character was so brilliantly comically drawn such as Loles Leon the gossipy receptionist and Paulina Morales as Pepa’s rude lawyer.
Strong colours, fast and hilarious dialogue and more arguments than in an episode of Coronation Street or East Enders gives this take on Spanish life a feel of a society moving from a past into a vibrant present. Funny and also a feeling that Spain is barely a glass of sherry away from Axbridge in a world that is shrinking by the day – despite what some Brexiteers with their anti-European attitudes would have us to believe.
The film was appropriately introduce in fluent Spanish by Verity Mann.
The next film is the sequel to Pot Luck, and is called Russian Dolls, showing on April 7th.
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For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk