Dark Habits (Almodovar, 1983)

The early films of Pedro Almodovar range from the horrifically beautiful (Matador) to the benignly frantic (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). Dark Habits falls somewhere in between. Almodovar finds his contradictory muse in the form of a Mother Superior who happens to be a heroine addict and a lesbian. When a lounge singer on the lam finds her way to the convent’s stoop, the dazzled women of the cloth welcome the new redeemer with open arms. The result is a non-stop shopping spree of odd and dark characters looking for strength and guidance in all the morally obscure places. One drops acid and has a tiger for a pet, another writes steamy novels under a pseudonym, and all seem at home with their vices. As always, Almodovar doesn’t judge these women, but simply enlightens their quirky complexities and inner demons. Almodovar once again uses color and music beautifully, highlighting the dark mood with halo’s of red and and orange. But unlike his later films, Dark Habits flounders as a cohesive story. It’s muddy plotting cannot be rectified by the intriguing premise, instead coming across more as a series of skits rather than a full blown narrative. These characters exist in a melodramatic universe, but don’t seem to notice or care when their world begins to shift under their feet. While moments of stunning camera moves compliment these daring if not familiar cast of Almodovar characters, the uneven nature of the whole makes Dark Habits more flimsy than scathing. For Almodovar, that’s a mortal sin.

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