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Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (free)

  • Chazen Museum of Art 750 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

UW Cinematheque's sprawling, semester-long, 15-film retrospective on Pedro Almodóvar commences with his international breakthrough, 1988's Women On The Verge Of a Nervous Breakdown. The farcical melodrama, which landed Almodóvar an Oscar nomination in 1989, reveals the visual vivacity, ribald antics, and tangled affairs that continue to define his best work and status as one of Spain's most imitated contemporary filmmakers. Almodóvar's influence has surfaced this decade in You And The Night (directed by Yann Gonzalez) and The New Girlfriend (by François Ozon). However, Almodóvar's most significant hallmark may be a dogged adherence to the Bechdel test. Not only do his screenplays celebrate one complex female lead, but they often feature a multitude of striking, daring roles for women. Such is the case in Women On The Verge..., which first focuses on the emotional distress of voiceover actress Pepa (Carmen Maura), who threatens to commit suicide by sleeping pill-spiked gazpacho after her boyfriend Iván (Fernando Guillén) dumps her over the phone in an opening scene that recalls Jean Cocteau's play The Human Voice (1930). However, before Pepa can go through with it, she is interrupted by her best friend Candela (María Barranco) and an eccentric cavalcade of characters, including Iván's son Carlos (a bespectacled Antonio Banderas) and his narcissistic fiancée Marisa (Rossy de Palma), who are apartment-hunting. From here, Almodóvar weaves his chaotic, provocative slapstick with an irresistible personality that's matched only by costumed chicness and the high-rise apartment's eye-popping detail. At cursory glance, the over-the-top events may appear to be shaping up to be a grand soap opera, but the joy in watching the film is its persistent self-awareness, lovingly staging and then skewering those tropes of daytime TV. —Grant Phipps