What Have I Done to Deserve This? (Spain, 1984):
(¿Qué He Hecho Yo Para Merecer Esto?!!)

The title's lament is something Carmen Maura, the epically frazzled hausfrau, would cry after one of her 18-hour torment marathons -- only this is Pedro Almodóvar's Madrid, so Maura conducts herself with the lyrical gravity of a Cocteau heroine (along with a steady supply of uppers and the occasional glue-sniffing). Scrubbing the floors of a Kendo dojo follows into a shower quickie with one of the sword-thrusters, though from there it's on home at the dinky tenements, to a loutish cabbie hubby (Ángel de Andrés López) who warbles Zarah Leander tunes and forges Hitler's handwriting for a lover's memoirs. The rest of the clan is hardly easier -- teenage son Juan Martínez deals smack, prepubescent Miguel Ángel Herranz is cheerily adopted by a pederastic dentist, stingy abuela Chus Lampreave dotes on a lizard dubbed Dinero and recalls her old village, as close a set of vague, lost values as is allowed in the candy-colored disintegration of the Spanish urban milieu. Maura is no less harried though more comfortable around the neighbors, Marilyn-bubbly hooker Verónica Forqué (who recruits her for assistance with an exhibitionist trick) and a pint-sized Carrie, whose telekinectics point toward the spilling-over psyches of Matador. The plot is to thicken absurdly, as Almodóvar's often proudly do, with accidental murder via kitchen counter, a couple of soused bourgeois writers, and an impotent police inspector (Luis Hostalot) who turns out to be Maura's shower companion, incidentally. Family dynamics are dissected and declared scarcely less oppressive than the dictatorship of the previous decade, so its systematic breakdown ushers in, if not an alternative, at least a rebirth, with Maura squarely at the helm. Absurdist gags cloak societal grimness, yet the film is marinated in a sense of magical yearning -- the Big Heat scalding gets worked into a coffee TV commercial, even Ibsen can become a romantic. With Gonzalo Suárez, Amparo Soler Leal, and Katia Loritz.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home