(director/writer: Pedro Almodovar; cinematographer: Angel Luis Fernandez; editor: Jose Salcedo; music: Bernardo Bonezzi; cast: Carmen Maura (Gloria), Veronica Forque (Cristal), Angel de Andres Lopez (Antonio), Chus Lampreave (Grandmother), Kiti Manver (Juani), Juan Martinez (Toni), Miguel Angel Harranz (Miguel), Katia Loritz (Ingrid Muller), Luis Hostalot (Police Inspector Polo), Gonzalo Suarez (Lucas), Emilio Gutierrez (Pedro), Amparo Soler Leal (Patricia), Ryo Hiruma (Profesor Kendo), Cecilia Roth (Chica anuncio), Sonia Holimann (Vanessa), Javier Gurruchaga (Dentist), Jaime Chavarri (Striptease Client); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tadeo Villalba; Tartan Video; 1984-Spain-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“Vacant black comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Spain’s flamboyant writer-director Pedro Almodovar(“High Heels”/”Bad Education”/”All About My Mother”), for his fourth feature, shoots a plot-less, episodic, vacant black comedy about a long-suffering cleaning lady housewife, Gloria (Carmen Maura), addicted to No-Doze, who sells her queer teen son Miguel (Miguel Angel Harranz) to a horny gay dentist (Javier Gurruchaga), and snaps one day and accidentally kills her insensitive chauvinistic cabbie husband, Antonio (Angel de Andres Lopez), with a ham bone using a kendo-chop, after he arranges to meet his ex-girlfriend, Ingrid Muller (Katia Loritz), a German second-rate actress who admired Hitler, on her visit to Madrid.

Gloria’s unhappy family live in a cramped apartment in a Madrid hi-riser that faces the noisy freeway. Her 14-year-old son Toni (Juan Martinez) is illiterate like dad and learns from dad how to be a forger. The kid makes money selling weed. Also residing there is Gloria’s eccentric mother-in-law (Chus Lampreave), who collects big sticks found in the park and rescues a lizard found in the street, she names Money, and brings the reptile home as a pet. The unhappy Granny yearns to return to her small-village hometown.

The amoral melodrama is filled with scatological humor and absurd vignettes that offer relentless tasteless comedy bits, where there are such incidents as Gloria asked by her aspiring actress prostitute neighbor Cristal (Veronica Forque) to sit in on an exhibitionist client (Jaime Chavarri) who requests an audience; a middle-aged failed writer, Lucas (Gonzalo Suarez), a married neighbor of Antonio, who is trying to get him to forge Hitler’s memoir and make a fortune selling it to a publisher; an insulting seamstress (Kiti Manver) neighbor’s abused little girl (Sonia Holimann), who can use her telekinetic skills for good or bad purposes; Gloria, while working as a cleaning lady for a Kendo dojo instructor (Ryo Hiruma), is fucked in the shower by one of the participants; and the impotent investigating police inspector (Luis Hostalot), who was coincidentally the one in the shower room with Gloria, is now the one investigating her husband’s death and has eyes for Cristal.

The inconsequential pic aims to depict the many injustices and poor living conditions of the hardworking working-class woman, who loses her family because she’s working an 18-hour day and becomes to busy to look after them properly. The problem is that Almodovar seems more interested in exploiting his subject’s suffering for comedy purposes than offering real sympathy. The director shows flashes of greatness, but the vignettes are too carelessly executed. Almodovar seems too emotionally detached from the woman he wants us to pity and his story telling is too messy.

It was the first Almodovar picture to be released theatrically in the U.S. and pleased the large festival crowds.

What Have I Done to Deserve This? Poster

REVIEWED ON 3/2/2014 GRADE: C+     https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/