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MGM Studios DVD presents
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

Policeman: What's going on?
Pepa: Nothing. Just discussing the lady's dress.
Candela: It's awful.
Carlos: It's just a dress.
Candela: But it's awful!
Carlos: Maybe she likes it.

- Jose Navarro, Carmen Maura, Maria Barranco, Antonio Banderas

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: April 10, 2001

Stars: Carmen Maura, Fernando Guillen
Other Stars: Maria Barranco, Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano, Guillermo Montesinos, Rossy De Palma
Director: Pedro Almodovar

Manufacturer: Sunset Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: R for (language, sexual situations)
Run Time: 01h:28m:55s
Release Date: April 10, 2001
UPC: 027616860439
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A BC+B- D-

DVD Review

I owe a debt of gratitude to my high school Spanish teacher. Sure, he smelled like a combination of dirty diapers and day-old coffee, but dagnabit, he fostered my love of the Spanish language. Well, actually, I can't say I feel any particular love for the foreign tongue. In fact, thinking about Spanish class is just bringing up painful memories of high school. Please, don't turn me into an outcast just because I am different! I really do have love to give; I just don't know where to put it. I'm not a smart man, but I know what love is! My love is real, but I am not!

Wow. Kinda got off track. I'll have to cut and paste that for my therapist. Anyway, so... Spanish. My high school Spanish teacher liked to escape the monotony of teaching by showing us films that were either dubbed in Spanish or originally filmed in Spanish. Usually they had strong ties to Spanish culture, like the powerful El Norte, the magical Como Agua para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate), or the thrilling Karate Kid II ("¬°Barrate la pierna!"). The one that really stands out in my memory, however, is Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios, released in America as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Pedro Almodovar was already well known and respected in Spanish speaking countries by the time Women on the Verge... began playing in American theaters. His 18th film had done extremely well overseas, receiving the Best Picture award in Spain for 1988, and it played well in America, clinching an Oscar¨ nomination for best foreign film. It holds up well in comparison to his other pictures, and stands as one of the director's most popular to date.

Women on the Verge... is basically a story of revenge. Pepa (Carmen Maura) has just been dumped by her long-time lover Ivan (Fernando Guillen). She tries to track him down to resolve the situation, but he is clearly avoiding her. Pepa becomes convinced that he is cheating on her with another woman, Lucia (Julieta Serrano). Meanwhile, Lucia is also angry with Ivan, but she blames Pepa, pegging her as the homewrecker. In the midst of this, Pepa is visited by her frantic friend Candela (Maria Barranco), who has gotten mixed up in a conspiracy involving Shiite terrorists. The situation spins even further out of control, eventually involving Carlos (Antonio Banderas) and Marisa (Rossy De Palma), who really just wanted to look at Pepa's apartment; some barbiturate-spiked gazpacho; several inept policemen; a confused telephone repairman, and an emotional cab driver (Guillermo Montesinos).

Almodovar, who wrote and directed the film, handles these complex, contrived and confusing plot elements with surprising ease. Such a convoluted story could easily have degenerated into an ugly, noisy, and incomprehensible final product. Instead, the pace is quick, but the narrative still follows a comprehensible line of logic. The film depends less on comedic punchlines than absurd situations, but the film is still quite funny.

Almodovar revels in the little details that really add punch to his scripts. For example, both Pepa and Ivan are actors who work as voice dubbers for English films. The sequences they dub, therefore, mirror their feelings in the "real" world. Also sure to provoke mirth and merriment is the insecure cab driver, who keeps a full pharmacy in the back of his cab (just in case).

Foreign films can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you are used to conventional Hollywood fluff. If you are looking to expand your horizons, however, Women on the Verge... is as good a place to start as any. I should send my Spanish teacher a bouquet of breath mints in thanks.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: MGM has provided Women on the Verge... with a decent (at best) transfer; it easily could have been so much better. First of all, colors look very nice. This is a very colorful film, and what comes up on screen is well-saturated and balanced. Black level is pretty good. There are only a few scenes where shadow detail even comes into play, so it isn't much of an issue. Edge enhancement doesn't seem to be too much of a problem, with only a few outdoor scenes showing evidence of the halo-effect. The image exhibits a lot of film grain (to the point where some complex patterns swim with digital artifacts), and the print used for the master was in poor shape as well. Lines and scratches are commonplace, and for several frames midway through the film, a "cigarette burn" (the reel-change marker/dot) is visible.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoCastilian Spanish, English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: For review purposes, I only checked out the preferred original language track, in Castilian Spanish mono, and it isn't too bad. While the sound (especially dialogue) is clear and there is no audible hiss, music and sound effects lack bass definition, sounding somewhat harsh and unnatural as a result. Passable, but there is nothing exciting in this mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: As is becoming the norm for MGM, extras are limited to a trailer (in rather poor shape). However, I am happy to report that the subtitle problem that occurred with MGM's issue of La Femme Nikita has not been replicated. On that disc, the English subtitles were not a proper translation of the original French, but merely a textual rendition of the translated-to-fit-mouth-movements English dub. The English subs on Women on the Verge... are, in fact, a literal translation.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

The films of Pedro Almodovar run the gamut from the unusual to the twisted, making Women on the Verge... a comparatively normal effort. Definitely recommended for fans of foreign film, or for those looking for an offbeat black comedy.


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