What Have I Done to Deserve This? Review

The bored housewife is most commonly found in the film noir. Think of Mildred Pierce, Craig’s Wife or any number of James M. Cain “heroines”, hungry for sex with strangers and just as willing to bump off their husbands. Yet whilst Carmen Maura, lead in What I Have Done to Deserve This?, satisfies some of these criterion, she’s also occupying a role in an early Pedro Almodóvar movie which means gaudy, punchy and cheeky, not murky, ambiguous and dangerous. Indeed, this is a typical eighties entry in the director’s filmography. The mock TV programmes/commercials, comic books and garish title sequence are all present and correct. And whilst we may get melodrama – or rather hints at melodrama – nothing is quite able to impose on Almodóvar’s personality.

What the film offers is an apartment block full of absurdist goings-on which, in part, recall Bertrand Blier’s Buffet froid. However, whereas that film effectively moved forward in a straight line, no matter how odd its developments, What Have I Done to Deserve This? is far more wayward and free-ranging. Its plot, if you can describe it as such, is equally able to encompass forged Hitler’s diaries as it is a pair of kleptomaniac writers. Moreover, each of the characters has their own little quirks with which to distract and disarm the viewer: Maura’s youngest son, barely in his teens if at all, sleeps with a friend’s father, whilst the other, a little older at 14, deals drugs to a neighbouring prostitute.

It’s the kind of environment which Almodóvar can really sink his teeth into. He appears to lap up every last morsel of everyday kitsch and relish every single close-up of a vomit covered floor. Had it all been told in a strictly realist fashion then no doubt What Have I Done to Deserve This? would have been unwatchable – tawdry, downbeat, despairing even, save for the kid with telekinetic powers. Yet Almodóvar almost shrugs off the more debauched elements and treats everything with a lightness of touch. It’s a testament to his talents that the moment in which the youngest son is adopted by a paedophile dentist inexplicably has us smiling. Any other director and it’s difficult to imagine a similar result.

Indeed, What Have I Done to Deserve This? makes for a perfectly amusing and engaging viewing experience, though much like Almodóvar’s previous Dark Habits it really isn’t anything more than a collection of sketches. Admittedly, it doesn’t attempt to entice us with a narrative or even consider taking such a direction, yet it really needs to have something more in order to stand up alongside the likes of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown or even Pepi, Luci, Bom…. Given that Almodóvar has produced a number of great films throughout his career, perfectly amusing and engaging isn’t quite enough to dominate in such company.

The Disc

This particular offering from Optimum is available either individually or as part of their Almodóvar collection. As such it lacks the José Arroyo introduction found on the other discs in that boxed set, but still comes with a reasonable enough presentation. Transferred anamorphically at a ratio of approximately 1.75:1, the print used is on the clean side, but does appear to be overly murky. Admittedly, much of the film is set either within dingy rooms or at night, but nonetheless it looks decidedly less gaudy then your average early Almodóvar offering. As for the soundtrack, here we find a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix of the original Spanish which sounds perfectly fine. Note however, that the English subtitles are of the burnt-in variety, as has been the case with all of Optimum’s Almodóvar releases thus far. In lieu of the Arroyo introduction, we instead find a poster gallery and the original theatrical trailer as the disc’s only extras.

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