Dark Habits Review

This disc is currently only available as part of Optimum's Almodóvar The Collection: Volume One boxed set.

Pedro Almodóvar came to Dark Habits following two punk concoctions which thrived on that era’s anything goes mentality: Pepi, Luci, Bom…, which combined golden showers and a rape-revenge narrative; and Labyrinth of Passion, which saw the director himself don a mini skirt in order to perform a musical number. Rather than continue in this manner, feature number three instead sees a more towards a more serious style of filmmaking. For here Almodóvar joined up with a proper producer and actually made a genuine stab at the mainstream.

Indeed, Dark Habits’ credit sequence – though utilising a typically garish typeface – is backed by a mournful piano number, whilst the rest of the score is heavily dependent on orchestrated cues as opposed to the aggressive fuzz-pop numbers of the director’s earlier days. Moreover, there appears to be a greater sense of planning and intent to his approach: camera movements are carefully chosen; sets aren’t simply there because they could be borrowed from an acquaintance for a couple hours; and, dare I say it, there may even be a modicum of luxury to the surroundings. All told, Almodóvar would appear to be creating some kind of environment for prime female melodrama.

Yet we’re not quite talking about a true companion to The Flower of My Secret or All About My Mother here. Rather Dark Habits is more immediately salacious in its outlook. The leading character is Yolanda, a nightclub singer and junkie who seeks refuge at the Humiliated Redeemers Shelter after her boyfriend ODs and she finds herself on the run. Furthermore, the nuns whom she discovers there are not your typical cinematic order. They’re named Sister Manure, Sister Sin and the like. They keep a full grown tiger in the garden. The Mother General is believed to be dying but is in fact a heroin addict. And another pens trash literature with titles such as Out of Here, Swine! and Secretaries Cry Too.

As such we have yet another Almodóvar work which is typically female-centric, a line which can be traced from Pepi, Luci, Bom… right through to Talk to Her. And just like in those works we find a great deal of sympathy for the characters which results not only in an overall warmth to the picture, but also a string of delightful performances. Indeed, it’s easy to see why the likes of Carmen Maura, Manuela Velasco, Chus Lampreave and more would effectively form a repertory company for their director, making appearances time and again throughout his career. And of course, having such a company to work with no doubt explains the general air of relaxation.

However, this has rubbed off on the rather loose structure and it proves to be Dark Habits’s failing. Whereas Pepi, Luci Bom… and Labyrinth of Passion could get away with their messiness simply because it perfectly matched the films’ mood, here the classier pretensions mean that we need something more than a bunch of tenuously connected episodes. Certainly, the lysergic interpolations (another of the nuns is permanently tripping), the song miming à la Dennis Potter, and the general non sequitors are all amusing in themselves, but there’s no real coherency to be found, no sense of dramatic conviction. As such we have a film which undoubtedly engages and will no doubt provide plenty of interest for fans of its director, but when put alongside the likes of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Live Flesh, it can’t help but appear a nothing more than a minor work.

The Disc

Another of the titles included in Optimum’s Almodóvar: The Collection boxed set, Dark Habits presentation is a mixture of the excellent and the odd. Excellent because it offers a superb level of detail and clarity as well as superb colours and anamorphic enhancement. Odd because it comes at a ratio of approximately 1.95:1. The intended framing should be somewhere between 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 (of course, this would be dictated by which country the film received its theatrical showing – different places going for different screen ratios), yet here we get an image which has definitely been cropped. That said, we never see any noticeable cropping of heads or the like, but it still seems a strange state of affairs. As for the soundtrack, here we find the original Spanish mono recorded rendered as DD2.0. As with the clarity of image, it is crisp and clean throughout and poses no problems, though do note that the attendant English subtitles have been burnt into the image. The extras on the other hand amount to a 9-minute introduction by critic José Arroyo. As with his pieces on the Pepi, Luci, Bom… and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown releases, he offers an informative history of the film’s production, providing the requisite context both in terms of Almodóvar’s career as a whole and the Spanish politics of the time.

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out of 10

Last updated: 23/06/2018 18:49:29

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