HOW TO BE A WOMAN AND NOT DIE IN THE ATTEMPT (Cómo ser mujer y no morir en el intento)


(director: Ana Belén; screenwriter: novel by Carmen Rico-Godoy; cinematographer: Juan Amoros; editor: Carmen Fries; cast: Carmen Maura (Carmen), Antonio Resines (Antonio),Carmen Conesa(Chelo), Tina Sáinz (Emila), Juan Diego Botto (Sergio),Víctor García (Diego), Paca Casares (Editor/Director), Juanjo Puigcorbé (Mariano), Asunción Balaguer (Antonio’s Mother), Olalla Aguirre (Marta), Runtime: 89; 1991-Spain)

“This softball comedy from Spain just didn’t have enough impact to hit a home run.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This softball comedy from Spain just didn’t have enough impact to hit a home run. It probably has more relevancy for its native audience (at least, I hope it does), as most of its TV sitcom-like sketches just didn’t register with my domestic comedy/romance antenna. The film’s main asset is its popular star, Carmen Maura, considered by many Spanish film critics to be Spain’s most accomplished actress. She reminded me of Lucille Ball on her long running TV show “I Love Lucy.” If you like that sort of comedy, then you might like this film.

The director Ana Belén is a popular movie actress and singer, while writer Carmen Rico-Godoy is a popular novelist and journalist. The story is probably autobiographical. The heroine (Carmen Maura) is a journalist named Carmen; and, the film is laid out in four sections, just like a newspaper, but here the divisions relate to the time of season. Carmen is a bad tempered, modern Madrid woman who has been married three times and is trying desperately to make this marriage with Antonio (Antonio Resines) work. Antonio is an overweight, balding, amiable record producer who depends on his wife to take care of the house and give him advice on how to take care of himself.

The film opens with the chapter entitled “Summer,” as Carmen meets her husband at the airport. He wants to go to the beach — she doesn’t. We hear her private thoughts, as she decides to be nice and accompany him there. When a beautiful blonde in a deck chair next to them exposes her breasts, Carmen becomes jealous that her husband is staring at the younger woman. This will begin a long litany of domestic fights that occur between the constantly bickering couple. All the fights are mild and over the most trivial of things which is supposed to make this very materially comfortable couple look ridiculous, since it is obvious that they have so much going for them that there is no reason for them to be fighting all the time.

Their next fight is at an upscale restaurant they go to with another bourgeois couple, Mariano and Chelo. The argument starts when he orders a fattening lamb meal and she makes a comment. He then changes the order and waits for her to tell him what he can eat. While they absurdly argue she makes faces and he makes faces, and there is supposedly comedy in the faces they make.

In autumn Antonio signs a girl rock singer-drummer to a recording contract and when Carmen comes to the studio she sees them embracing, misunderstanding that she is just being comforted by him. At home she interacts amusingly with her maid Emilia and greets Antonio’s son Diego, from his first marriage, who returns to live with them after being abroad for a few months. He has started to smoke pot, which she deftly handles in a very civilized manner. She also welcomes back her older son Sergio from boarding school. It becomes apparent, she is the one who is in charge of the homefront.

During Christmas week Carmen goes shopping with her attractive daughter Marta and feels old when she is called mother, telling her not to call her that in public. Preparing to go to Antonio’s mother’s house for a Christmas dinner, Carmen has to tell him what tie to wear and how to dress. At the party, they get into another of their trivial spats. After being told by Antonio to buy the presents, Antonio’s mother receives a Cartier watch and exclaims how beautiful it is. Antonio tells his wife, “What are you trying to do, break me?” Carmen then tells him, “The watch only looks expensive, it was really quite cheap.” He then argues with her about getting his mother a cheap, imitation gift. At the workplace, she feels she is being discriminated because she is a woman and only the men get to be the bosses. She refuses a promotion from her editor (Casares) because she says she is more competent than the supervisor she will be working for and if she accepts and does well, he will get all the credit; but, if she messes up, she will be the only one taking the blame.

Spring brings out romantic feelings in Carmen as she sits in the park envious of all the slender young girls going by, ogles a handsome man walking by, and decides to cheer herself up by buying a sexy blouse. There’s also a melodramatic restaurant scene where she meets with Antonio to patch up their differences, as they have been temporarily separated. He tells her that he can’t live without her which she reacts badly to by running out of the restaurant, but soon returns to him.

Somehow the film flew by aided by its breezy pace, non-stop banter, and the lightheartedness of its direction. It was a sweet and palpable domestic comedy, similar to what American audiences saw on TV in the 1950s and 1960s (except for the nudity and frank sexual talk). Carmen Maura put on a good show, outwitting the episodic script and coming to terms with her great mid-life crisis in a pleasing manner. It’s a mild film, with mild comedy, and mild points to make about domestic relations. It is deserving of mild praise for its execution.