Director: Pedro Almodovar
In introducing WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS?!! to the festival audience at Montreal, helmer Pedro Almoldóvar said he didn't know whether he'd made a comedy or a tragedy. Most people would say Ihe former, as this enjoyably bizarre tale of a Madrid housewife has plenly of laughs, though no denying an undercurrent of a more serious message.
Gloria, splendidly played by Carmen Maura, has a chauvinist husband, Antonio, who drives a taxi and gets involved in a strange plot to forge Ietters supposedly wrltten by Adolf Hitter. Gloria's two sons are as mixed up as their father; one, aged 12, is a heroin dealer, while the younger seems to have gay tendencies and gets "adopted" by a Ietcherous dentist. AIso living in the cramped apartment is Gloria's batty, myopic mother-in-law, who has a pet lizard she calls Dinero (Money). As if that weren't enough, one neighbor is a hooker while another is a bluenose whose daughter has mystical powers.
There are other strange characters, too, floating through this fast-paced tragi-farce which is sometimes bawdy, often tasteless, but never dull. This kind of comedy is very much a matler of taste. Helping it along is the photography of Angel Luis Fernandez - all bright primary colors - and the jaunty music of Bernardo Bonezzi. Indeed, all credits are tops.
Almodóvar has lots of serious points to make about sexism and the non-liberated Spanish housewife, as well as whal's happening to families, especially kids, these days. He tends rather to overburden the plot with too many characters, but gets his quota of entertainment from his basically serious theme.
Among the highlights
are a parody of a tv commercial for coffee which features leading Spanish
actress Ceçilia Roth, and a very funny scene in which helmer Jaime Chavarri
gets to act the role of one of Ihe hooker's more outrageous clients.
courtesy of Wellington Film Society
“What Have I Done to Deserve This? is a black comedy in which the pressures on working-class women are emphasised by hyperbole and caricature: delinquent children, eccentric mother-in-law, selfish and uncaring husband, prostitution, drug addiction, cramped accommodation in what must be one of Europe's worst housing estates, and so on. That it ends in murder is not surprising. That the murder weapon is a hambone (which seems to be the main source of food throughout the film) standing in for a kendo stick is elegant, tying in the anonymous sex at the beginning of the film with Gloria's husband's sexual disregard of her. Almodóvar's recent films are dominated by their complex plots, shifting from one narrative fragment to another at breathless speed, dazzling in their intricacy and interconnectedness. New characters are constantly being introduced, or new connections discovered between existing ones. The sub-plot involving the forged Hitler letters is both a mad diversion reminiscent of Fassbinder and a demonstration that middle-class life is as complex as that of the working-class characters, and more corrupt.
“Almodóvar's sensibility might be said to lie somewhere between John Waters and Fassbinder, between outrageous camp and European art cinema, and often fails to work satisfactorily in either. He is such a prolific film-maker that his ideas are often not sufficiently worked out: semi-realist, documentary cinematography conflicts with his camp, sub-Lost in Space art direction. His more 'serious' ideas—centrally in this film, his feminism—are compromised by an explicit misogyny which underlies his use of caricature: Cristal the good-hearted whore, Juani the shrewish, upwardly aspiring bad mother, and Gloria herself, a good mother but trapped in Sisyphean drudgery, the oppressed housewife who learns nothing from her situation. We laugh, then sometimes the laughter feels uncomfortable.
“Some of these criticisms may be the result of over-familiarity: Almodóvar's three most recent films, What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984), The Law of Desire (1987), and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) have all been released in the U.K. within eighteen months and in reverse order. What Have I Done is the loosest of the three and suffers from being seen last. The narratives of the later films, though equally bizarre in content, are more controlled. Situations tend to repeat thernselves—the scene at Madrid airport amplified in the climax of Women On the Verge; bungled and bizarre police investigations in all three films, and so on. What Have I Done overall has a cold and at tinies cynical quality, reinforced bv the unsympathetic photography and mid-winter setting. Almodóvar doesn't really create moments of sympathv and identification; his sympathies are withheld. Human relationships are a bizarre calculus in which ‘everything is permitted'. But Carmen Maura, confirming what was evident in The Law of Desire, emerges here as a major actress, demonstrating a mastery of comic acting—timing, deadpan delivery, gesture—which could equally well be employed in the service of tragedy.” — Mark Nash, Monthly Film Bulletin