Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

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Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.jpg
Theatrical release poster
SpanishMujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios
Directed byPedro Almodóvar
Written byPedro Almodóvar
Produced byAgustín Almodóvar
CinematographyJosé Luis Alcaine
Edited byJosé Salcedo
Music byBernardo Bonezzi
Distributed byLauren Films
Release date
  • 25 March 1988 (1988-03-25) (Spain)
Running time
89 minutes[1]
Box office
  • P1.1 billion ($8 million[2]) (Spain)[3]
  • $7.2 million (US and Canada)[4]

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Spanish: Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios) is a 1988 Spanish black comedy film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, starring Carmen Maura and Antonio Banderas. The film brought Almodóvar to widespread international attention: it was nominated for the 1988 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film,[5] and won five Goya Awards including Best Film and Best Actress in a Leading Role for Maura. It was released on 11 November 1988.


The actual Spanish title refers to an ataque de nervios, which is not actually well translated as "nervous breakdown" (crisis nerviosa). Ataques de nervios are culture-bound psychological phenomena during which the individual, most often female, displays dramatic outpouring of negative emotions, bodily gestures, occasional falling to the ground, and fainting, often in response to receiving disturbing news or witnessing or participating in an upsetting event. Historically, this condition has been associated with hysteria and more recently in the scientific literature with post-traumatic stress and panic attacks.[6]


The film is based on the French play The Human Voice (La Voix humaine, 1930) by Jean Cocteau, in which a desperate woman tries to avoid being left by her lover through a series of phone calls. In the film, television actress Pepa Marcos is depressed because her boyfriend Iván has left her. They are voice actors who dub foreign films, notably Johnny Guitar with Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden. Ivan's sweet-talking voice is the same one he uses in his work. About to leave on a trip, he has asked Pepa to pack his things in a suitcase he will pick up later.

Pepa returns home to find her answering machine filled with frantic messages from her friend, Candela; she rips out the phone and throws it out the window onto the balcony. Candela arrives; before she can explain her situation, Carlos (Iván's son with Lucia, his previous lover) arrives with his snobbish fiancée Marisa. They are apartment-hunting, and have chosen Pepa's penthouse to tour. Carlos and Pepa figure out each other's relationship to Iván; Pepa wants to know where Iván is, but Carlos does not know. Candela tries to kill herself by jumping off the balcony.

A bored Marisa decides to drink gazpacho from the fridge, unaware that it has been spiked with sleeping pills. Candela explains that she had an affair with an Arab who later visited her with some friends. Unbeknownst to her, they are a Shiite terrorist cell. When the terrorists leave, Candela flees to Pepa's place; she fears that the police are after her. Pepa goes to see a lawyer whom Carlos has recommended.

The lawyer, Paulina, behaves strangely, and has tickets to Stockholm. Candela tells Carlos that the Shiites plan to hijack a flight to Stockholm that evening and divert it to Beirut, where they have a friend who was arrested. Carlos fixes the phone, calls the police, hangs up before (he believes) they can trace the call, and kisses Candela. Pepa returns; Lucía calls and says that she is coming over to confront her about Iván. Carlos says that Lucía has recently been released from a mental hospital. Pepa, tired of Iván, throws his suitcase out (barely missing him); he leaves Pepa a message.

Pepa returns to her apartment and hears Carlos playing Lola Beltrán's "Soy Infeliz". She throws the record out the window, and it hits Paulina. Pepa hears Iván's message, rips out the phone and throws the answering machine out of the window. Lucía arrives with the telephone repairman and the police, who traced Carlos' call. Candela panics, but Carlos serves the spiked gazpacho. The policemen and repairman are knocked out, and Carlos and Candela fall asleep on the sofa; Lucía aims a policeman's gun at Pepa, who figures out that Iván is going to Stockholm with Paulina and their flight is the one the terrorists are planning to hijack. Lucía says that she faked being sane when she heard Iván's voice dubbed on a foreign film. She throws the gazpacho in Pepa's face, and rushes to the airport to kill Iván.

Pepa chases her in a cab with her neighbour, Ana. At the airport, Lucía sees Iván and Paulina at security and aims her gun at them. Pepa thwarts the murder attempt by rolling a luggage cart at Lucía, before fainting. Iván rushes to Pepa's aid and apologises for the way he has been treating her, offering to talk things out with her. Pepa, however, declares it is now too late and leaves. She returns to her home, which is a mess. Pepa sits on her balcony, where Marisa has just awakened. The women chat, sharing a moment of tranquility, and Pepa finally reveals what she wanted to tell Iván: she is pregnant.



Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 90% out of 30 professional critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 7.7/10.[7] Based on 12 critics, it holds an 85/100 rating on Metacritic, signifying "universal acclaim".[8]

The film is ranked #78 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" list in 2010.[9]

The film was the highest-grossing Spanish film of all-time in Spain with a gross of 1.1 billion pesetas surpassing La vaquilla (1985),[3] equivalent to US$8 million.[2] It was also the most successful Spanish movie in the United States at the time with a gross of $7.2 million.[10][4]

Awards and nominations[edit]

United States[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

  • BAFTA Awards (UK)
    • Nominated: Best Film not in the English Language


Stage adaptation[edit]

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown has been adapted into a musical by Jeffrey Lane (book) and David Yazbek (music and lyrics). The production opened on Broadway in previews on 5 October 2010, and officially on 4 November 2010, at the Belasco Theatre. The cast included Patti LuPone, Sherie Rene Scott, Laura Benanti, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Danny Burstein, Mary Beth Peil, Justin Guarini, de'Adre Aziza, and Nikka Graff Lanzarone, with direction by Bartlett Sher.[11]

The production was a limited engagement that was scheduled to end 23 January 2011, but due to low grosses and ticket sales, closed early on 2 January 2011. At the time of closing, the show had played 30 previews and 69 regular performances.[12]

The show later ran in London's West End at the Playhouse Theatre, with television star Tamsin Greig in the leading role.[citation needed]`

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 17 November 1988. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  2. ^ a b "All-time top grossers in Spain". Variety. 2 May 1990. p. 208.
  3. ^ a b "Las mujeres de Almodóvar primer puesto de recaudación de la historia" (PDF). Diario ABC (in Spanish). 5 May 1991. p. 102. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  4. ^ a b Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  5. ^ "The 61st Academy Awards (1989) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  6. ^ Schechter DS, Marshall RD, Salman E, Goetz D, Davies SO, Liebowitz MR (2000). Ataque de nervios and childhood trauma history: An association? Journal of Traumatic Stress, 13:3, 529–534.
  7. ^ Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  8. ^ Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 12 July 2013
  9. ^ "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema | 78. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown". Empire.
  10. ^ "Pix from afar: National bests in the U.S.". Variety. 7 January 1991. p. 86.
  11. ^ Hetrick, Adam."Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Sherie Rene Scott Cast in Broadway's 'Women on the Verge'" Archived 5 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine playbill.com, 26 July 2010
  12. ^ Adam Hetrick, "Broadway's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown Will Close Early" playbill.com, 28 December 2010 Archived 29 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]