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Wellspring presents
Dark Habits (Entre tinieblas) (1983)

Mother Superior: Very soon, this place will be full of murderesses, drug addicts, prostitutes, just like before.
Sister Rat of the Sewers: Praised be to God!

- Julieta Serrano, Chus Lampreave

Review By: Robert Edwards  
Published: October 29, 2003

Stars: Cristina S. Pascual, Julieta Serrano, Marisa Paredes
Other Stars: Carmen Maura
Director: Pedro Almodóvar

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (implied drug use, a glimpse of breasts, and general decadence)
Run Time: 01h:40m:03s
Release Date: September 09, 2003
UPC: 720917538624
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar is surely one of the best-known foreign directors in the United States, if only for his appearances at the 2000 and 2003 Oscar© ceremonies, where his effusiveness was matched only by his limited command of the English language. Born in 1951 in a poverty-stricken region of Spain, he moved—on his own—to the bright lights and big city of Madrid at the tender age of sixteen. His early interest in writing and creating photo novels soon led to an interest in film, but due to the closure of the national film school by the dictator Franco's repressive government, he was unable to go, and took at job with a phone company instead. Having saved enough money to buy himself a Super-8 camera, he began filming shorts in the early 1970s, and quickly became associated with La Movida, an extraordinary pop-art movement that flourished in Madrid in the late '70s and early '80s with the relaxation of government censorship following the death of Franco in 1975.

Indeed, Almodóvar's first two features, Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls on the Heap (1980) and Labyrinth of Passion (1982) are little more than exhaustive catalogs of all the taboos that were forbidden under Franco: drug use, so-called "deviant" sexuality, crude language, adultery, religious blasphemy, and satire of government officials. But with 1983's Dark Habits, Almodóvar took a giant step forward.

It's the story of Yolanda (Cristina Sánchez Pascual), whose boyfriend has just died of strychnine-laced heroin. The police are looking for her, because she herself has done a little dealing on the side. Recalling the nuns who came to visit her backstage at a singing gig and offered to help her whenever she needed it, she goes to the Community of Humble Redeemers, where she's welcomed with open arms. But there's something more than a little bit odd with this community of nuns—not only do they all have bizarre names like Sister Damned, Sister Snake, and Sister Rat of the Sewers, but there's also a tiger in the garden. And her situation just keeps getting odder, with drug use, homosexuality, and blackmail soon to be served up.

Perhaps the most striking feature of Dark Habits is its increased sophistication in consistency and narrative as compared to Almodóvar's first two films, but it's still a transitory film, and a brief comparison with his next film, What Have I Done to Deserve This? is instructive. Not only is the black humor funnier in the latter film, but also the characters' individual arcs are tied together into a much more satisfying whole. And one can also see the beginning of two of Almodóvar's other obsessions, both of which he would only master in later films, namely an emphasis on color, costume, and decor, and an increasing reliance on melodrama as an integral part of his work.

But the one thing missing in both films is a nuanced emotional impact. Yes, there is an impact—but it's generally one of either outrage or bemusement, depending on the sensibilities of the viewer. It's only later in his career, especially with his masterpieces All About My Mother and Talk to Her that Almodóvar would master the ability to both amuse and move his audience.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image is rather disappointing, especially given that the packaging declares "New HD Transfer." Taken from a less-than-pristine source print, the image is incredibly grainy, especially in the first part of the film. Speckles abound, and indeed one scene is so riddled with flaws that it looks like it was taken from a different source print. Colors are reasonably good, but all in all this is not a pleasant transfer to look at.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: While the image is acceptable, the sound is not. It's low-fidelity, incredibly muffled, and plagued by constant, annoying hiss. And the touted "5.1 Mix" is not even worth listening to—bizarrely, the only difference between the left and right channels (both in the fronts and surrounds) is that the left channel has more hiss.

Audio Transfer Grade: D


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Pedro Almodóvar filmography
Extras Review: The subtitles are good, with only a few spelling mistakes, and a director filmography is included.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Dark Habits is Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar's depiction of a convent where nothing is quite as it initially seems. The transfer is only so-so, but fans of other Almodóvar films, as well as anyone who enjoys the works of the likes of John Waters or Ken Russell, will enjoy its satire and dark humor.


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