Pedro Almodovar’s “What Have I Done To Deserve This” Is A Fascinating Portrait Of Surviving Domesticity
The focus of Almodovar’s early efforts was La Movida, a movement that empowered the freedom of expression and encouraged the breaking of taboo. What Have I Done To Deserve This? is another fascinating piece of work which features in Studio Canal’s magnificent six-film Pedro Almodovar DVD box set.
This review contains plot spoilers
I am used to Pedro Almodovar focusing himself mostly on female characters or situations that put women in the spotlight (which is not always a good one), but What Have I Done To Deserve This is probably the beginning of this tight director-female character relationship. It is not the first time he focused on women more than men, but it is the first time he focused on one particular woman and her turbulent life – Gloria (Carmen Maura).
What Have I Done To Deserve This is inspired by its time and Spanish culture during the 1980s. Spain was finally free, out of Franco’s dictatorship, but adjusting to new ideas. Changing old social and cultural values can be overwhelming. There were not a lot of jobs; people started looking more across the ocean, dreaming about the American life, transitioning to a modernised lifestyle. This big part of Spain’s history is known as La Movida, a movement that empowered the freedom of expression and encouraged the breaking of taboos. One of the biggest changes, however, came in the role that women were about to play in society. This is the focus of Almodovar’s 1984 effort.
Gloria is a mother, a wife, and a worker at the same time; exactly like most of the women we know nowadays. But it is isn’t easy. Her turbulent teenagers – one who earns his cash from dealing smack and the other from sleeping with elderly men – cause her endless anxiety. This is coupled with the monotonous regime she carried out every day cleaning wealthy people’s houses only to come back to her family and an unsupportive husband who treats her more like a maid than a wife, is enough to cause anyone a mental breakdown. Gloria is the embodiment of what being a woman during the 80s meant. She was trying to bring money into the house by doing one of the few things she knew – cleaning, and instead of being complimented for that by her husband, he keeps telling her that she should not be working, she should not leave the house, she should not hang around with her friends. So what is she supposed to do? Stay inside, cook, clean, and make sure everyone has everything they need?
After a hard argument with her husband, Antonio (Angel de Andres Lopez), who was getting ready for a date with his mistress, the German Ingrid Muller (Katia Loritz), Gloria finally says “no” to ironing his shirt (the one he was going to wear for his date). They both lose their temper and Gloria hits him in the head with a bat. He then falls and breaks his neck, which leads to his immediate death. What Gloria wanted was a bit of peace, a bit of “me time”; and she finally got it. The husband is dead, her elder son Toni (Juan Martinez) decides to move to the village with his parental grandmother, and younger son Miguel (Miguel Angel Herranz) goes to live with a paedophile. She finally escapes the chaos, but at the end of the film she leans over the balcony in what looks like an attempt of suicide. Out of nowhere, the Prodigal Son, Miguel, comes back home claiming that the house needs a man.
This family, society, self-related drama is filled with humorous moments, strange characters, and even more drama. The closing scene is a way of showing that after all Gloria has been through she is just another human being from a big bunch of us trying to survive the punches that life is throwing at us.
Written by Cristina Diaconu
Top 10 Films reviewed What Have I Done To Deserve This as part of the six-film Pedro Almodovar DVD box set courtesy of Studio Canal.
What Have I Done To Deserve This is released on DVD and Blu-ray as part of Studio Canal’s box set featuring Dark Habits, Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Kika and Flower of my Secret. The collection is released Sep 19, 2016.