What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984)

“Why did I ever marry? What a fool I was.”

Synopsis:
An overworked housewife (Carmen Maura) with an abusive husband (Angel de Andres Lopez), a wacky mother-in-law (Chus Lampreave), and two troubled sons (one a hustler, the other a drug dealer) relies on No-Doz and her prostitute-friend (Veronica Forque) to get by.

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Review:
This early film by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is an excellent introduction to his signature style: bizarre situations are accepted as commonplace, sex is on everyone’s minds, women are put-upon by their loutish partners, and female camaraderie is the linchpin of survival. Indeed, the similarities between this and Almodovar’s most recent film, Volver (2006), are too obvious not to notice; watch them back to back and you’ll find that he’s continuing to explore (and exploit) the issues he feels most strongly about.

One must be prepared to suspend all judgment and belief when watching What Have I Done…? In what is likely the film’s most jaw-dropping sequence, Gloria blithely gives her son away to a pedophilic dentist in exchange for the bill. What else can she do, when her husband refuses to let her work but won’t give her money? Indeed, as in Volver, Almodovar has the ultimate respect for female survival: a bizarre subplot about an abused young girl with telekinetic powers serves as a cross-generational reminder that endurance takes many forms.

Above all else, however, Almodovar’s films should be enjoyed for the perversity of the characters, the colorful sets, and the seemingly improvised scripts. It’s impossible to predict what will happen next, so simply sit back and enjoy the surreal ride.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Carmen Maura as Gloria
    Maura
  • Veronica Forque as Cristal
    Cristal
  • Chus Lampreave as Abuela
    Abuela
  • Abuela advising her grandson and his friend to “visit Granada”
    Granada
  • Gloria’s son’s visit to a pedophilic dentist
    Dentist
  • Gloria and Cristal watching an exhibitionist john as he strips
    Stripping
  • A bizarre subplot involving a neighbor’s “special” daughter
    Special

Must See?
Yes. This early Almodovar film is one of his wackiest, and a good introduction to his work.

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One Response to “What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984)”

  1. A must, but somewhat grudgingly so.

    For the most part, I agree with the assessment here. Almodovar is a cinematic force to be reckoned with and not to be ignored. I’ve seen his major work. Still, I don’t find myself going back to his films, really, once I’ve seen them. And a few of them I haven’t found satisfactory at all.

    There is one stand-out exception in which Almodovar’s playfulness and delirium pay off in full: ‘Law of Desire’. That’s the one I do go back to from time to time. It seems seamless.

    Though ‘What Have I Done…’ has moments of genuine hilarity, it seems a bit lackluster overall – esp. for something so daring.

    As Cristal, Forque comes off best and seems to be having the most fun with her character. Maura is a terrific actress but here she’s a passive protagonist, really; Almodovar would later give her one of his best creations in ‘Law…’.

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