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Film / Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

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Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios) is a 1988 film from Spain directed by Pedro Almodóvar.

Pepa Marcos (Carmen Maura) is an actress who stars on television and also dubs Hollywood films into Spanish. Pepa is depressed because her boyfriend Ivan has just dumped her. Pepa, who has something very important to tell Ivan, keeps trying to call but can only get his answering machine. Pepa looks for him at work and even stakes out his apartment, but never can find him.

Pepa, who is stressed out, can hardly be bothered to focus on her jittery friend Candela, who arrives at Pepa's apartment in a state of extreme agitation. It turns out that Candela's boyfriend is a Shiite terrorist who was hiding out in her home with two fellow terrorists, and Candela is terrified that she might go to jail. Meanwhile, none other than Ivan's son Carlos (Antonio Banderas) and his fiancée Marisa have arrived at the apartment, which they are looking to sub-let.

Star-Making Role for Antonio Banderas. This film also made Pedro Almodovar famous worldwide.


  • Amoral Attorney: Paulina Morales seems to be this way. She refuses to take Candela as a client when Pepa asks her for help, saying that the best thing Candela can do is turn herself in, even though Pepa knows that Candela needs legal representation.
  • Black Comedy: In-Universe. Pepa stars on TV as the mother of a Serial Killer. We see a commercial for laundry detergent in which Pepa successfully washes her son's blood-soaked shirt.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In the end, while Pepa saves Ivan's life, she realizes that he would never be faithful and tells him to go on vacation with Paulina. She promises to matchmake the phone repairman and Marisa, knowing that Carlos will hook up with Candela, and reveals to an awake Marisa that she's having a baby.
  • Breakup Bonfire: Pepa sets fire to a goddamn bed with hers and Ivan's memorabilia on it.
  • Camp Straight: The Mambo taxi driver. You'd bet he is gay because of his fixation with Mambo, the leopard-printed car seats, and his general mannerisms. Then he asks an autograph from Pepa for his girlfriend.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The sleeping pills that an anxious Pepa mixes into her gazpacho. She takes a sip, which doesn't affect her; but when Marisa finds the gazpacho in the fridge and eats some, she passes out in Pepa's kitchen. Then later, when Pepa needs to get the cops out of the way so she can stop Lucia at the airport, she feeds them the gazpacho as well.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Madrid's a big city but Carlos can still arrive completely at random at his father's lover's apartment.
    • Pepa calls a taxi three times. She always comes across the same driver.
  • Creator Cameo: Agustin Almodovar (Pedro's brother), the producer of the film, plays an architect Pepa meets with at one point.
  • Eagleland: When Ivan muses "some things are distinctly American," there's a shot of a majorette twirling a baton.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Everyone thinks that Pepa is acting erratically while trying to track down Ivan, given her spiking the gazpacho with sleeping pills. Carlos comments on her breaking the phone the second time. She then reveals to Marisa that she's pregnant and decided not to get back together with the father of her child. It puts her behavior in a new light.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: 48 hours from beginning to end.
  • Foreshadowing: Done several times during the film:
    • The daily news shown in Pepa's television report some Shia terrorists have been captured by the police, but a Spanish accomplice still unknown. Said accomplice is Candela, although unwittingly.
    • Pepa is shown fainting several times and picks up some test results from her doctor, which Carlos eventually reads and immediately grows concerned for her health afterwards. She is pregnant, as she reveals in the last scene.
    • Paulina Morales, the lawyer, is extremely rude to Pepa although she has just met her. She's Ivan's new girlfriend, and while Pepa isn't aware of her identity, she knows who Pepa is instead.
  • Follow That Car: Pepa gets into a cab and says "Follow that cab." The driver replies, "I thought this only happened in the movies." Later, she asks the same driver to follow the bike that Lucía has hijacked.
  • Food Slap; Carlos' mother throws gazpacho in Pepa's face when they're trying to pressure each other into drinking it.
  • Freeze-Frame Ending: Ends with a freeze frame of Pepa and Marisa on the terrace. The entirety of the credits runs over the freeze frame; there's no black background.
  • Good Stepmother: Pepa is thrilled to learn that Ivan has a son and is very affectionate to him when she unexpectedly has the chance to know him. After all, she almost was his stepmother and is pregnant with Carlos' half-brother.
  • Guns Akimbo: Lucia does this after she relieves both the unconscious cops of their firearms.
  • Homage:
    • The scene where Pepa is staking out Ivan's apartment from outside the building is reminiscent of Rear Window, to the point there's even a character similar to "Miss Torso" from the original film.
    • The scene of Ivan walking down a hallway and women throwing himself at him when he asks is similar to a dream sequence in Chloe in the Afternoon when Frederic imagines the same thing happening to him.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: When Pepa asks the cab driver to follow Lucia and the motorcycle she's hijacked (after Lucia has shot at them), the cab driver protests, "I'm a cab driver, not a bounty hunter."
  • In the Style of: Almodovar has said in interviews the movie is a modern-day version of a Hollywood Screwball Comedy.
  • Love Martyr: A common theme is that Love Hurts. Candela falls in love with a man that is revealed to be a Shia terrorist, and Pepa has been hurt and stood up by Ivan, a womanizer and deadbeat dad, countless times.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Pepa misses Ivan by seconds as she's leaving his apartment building, then Ivan misses her by seconds, and then Ivan doesn't notice her in a phone booth as he passes it.
  • Match Cut: From the movie reel that Ivan is dubbing counting down, to the clock by Pepa's bed.
  • Outdated Outfit: The film is set in The '80s, but Carlos' mother (and Ivan's ex) still wears outfits from The '60s along with the typical Twiggy eye make-up. It's justified since she hasn't taken well to the fact that she spent 20 years in an asylum while her youth and beauty faded.
  • Phone-Trace Race: In order to foil the hijacking without getting Candela involved, Carlos makes an emergency report and then slams the phone down before the cops can trace the call. As it turns out, he overestimated how hard it was to trace a call.
  • Pregnancy Makes You Crazy: Carlos's mother was institutionalized after his birth.
  • Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Lucia is a textbook example. She lost her sanity after being dumped by Ivan and was committed to an asylum. She decides that the only way she can forget about him is killing him.
  • Really Gets Around: Deconstructed with Ivan. He dallies with various women and dumps them cruelly. It comes back to bite him when one of those women decides to kill him, and his most recent ex-lover, who saves him, finally realizes he's not worth it and doesn't take him back afterwards.
  • Shameless Fanservice Girl: There's a woman at Ivan's apartment building who likes to dance in front of the open window while wearing nothing but bra and panties.
  • Shout-Out: Pepa does the Spanish dub for Joan Crawford In Johnny Guitar.
    • Almodovar has said the idea of a woman waiting for her lover to call was taken from Jean Cocteau's play The Human Voice (which Almodovar would later make a short film of with Tilda Swinton).
  • Skewed Priorities: The motorcyclist tells a gun-wielding woman that his girlfriend will be mad at him.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Pepa mixes up sleeping pills in her gazpacho. Later, Marisa finds the gazpacho in the fridge and eats some. She passes out in Pepa's kitchen, and after that, Pepa uses it to get the cops out of the way.
  • Speech Impediment: Carlos has a stammer.
  • Zip Me Up: Pepa asks Carlos to zip up her bodysuit, which he does.

Alternative Title(s): Mujeres Al Borde De Un Ataque De Nervios