Cinematic Storytelling: Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Pedro Almodovar was introduced to me early in film school and I instantly fell in love with his aesthetics. It’s just the way he composes and choreographs his films. When I saw Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, I was inspired at the possiblities. I learned mise en scène–an often ridiculed term by the average moviegoer but for filmmakers, it is perhaps what makes a film truly a film. Mise en scène isn’t just visual style, it’s what a shot is composed of that helps tell the story, from the color palette of the scenery and costumes, down to the blocking of the actors and overall direction.

As a director, subconsciously or not, you’re always trying to create the perfect mise en scène. It finally sunk in when I was introduced to Pedro Almodovar’s work.

Definitely a hit-or-miss director by all means (I loved All About My Mother but didn’t really care for Bad Education) Almodovar can tell a story purely through visuals. His screenplays are engaging, odd, quirky and always full of coincidences and chance happenings. To add to his writing talents, Almodovar is a pure exhibitionist–always showing rather then telling. For directors, that’s key.

Here are just some shots that still linger in my head . . .


Ivan work as a voice-over actor who dubs foreign films; the same voice he uses to sweet talk all his women are the same ones he uses in his work.  During this fabulous dream sequence, shot in grainy black & white, it visually brings home the idea of Ivan as a ladies’ man, holding the mic and speaking to girls who pass by through the mic. I love the structural patterns in the back.


This is an interesting shot of Ivan’s ex-wife, Lucia, who is mentally unstable. As she “descends” down the stairs and growing curious of what’s happening upstairs, she starts to get trapped in the structural steel bars of the staircase. Genius.


The Mambo Taxi! Now, the screen capture doesn’t do it much justice but I’ve never seen such a burst of color in a film before. Not since Dick Tracy. That was heavily stylized. Here the style is much more organic, and it works. You remember the mambo taxi and all its coincidental stops it makes throughout the course of the movie.


It almost seems like all the props in the frame are meant to be there. I mean, a beach ball on a rooftop? But it works. Love the colors.

wotvonb_005  wotvonb_006

Neat phone conversation. Love the patterns on their dress, and the backgrounds. Also, Pepa’s red phone throughout the course of the film becomes such an iconic prop. Is it because of how it simply pops on screen? How often it’s used by Pepa? It’s been thrown around, out the window, shattering glass, etc. I’ll never forget it how such an ordinary prop has become such a character in a film.


The gazpaucho drink. That awfully dated pink dress. Those hideous eyelashes. Lucia is just a basket case.


Ah yes, the traveling head. Love how Almodovar creates this shot of just Lucia’s head as she glides on a peoplemover near the end of the film. Creepy and completely mental.

The funny thing is I would have never picked up this movie have I not attended film school. You hear the title, you go, oh great, another foreign movie about strong women. But I love it. It just had such an affect on me early on in film school and to this day I think about what goes into a frame, and how much of what you put in the frame can tell the story without having one actor say a word.

One thought on “Cinematic Storytelling: Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”

  1. Very cool write up. I have never seen any of his films. I know, bad. But it does look like he has a strong visual style and I am about those strong styles to support the story. Isn’t that the point of film? lol.


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