A REVIEW OF THE FILM WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS? (1984)
The Spanish film Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto?, directed by Pedro Almodóvar was released in 1984 and runs 101 minutes. Its usual title in English is a literal translation, What Have I Done to Deserve This?, but it is is called What Have I Done Wrong? in the review presented here.
”It’s My Body!”
by Frank Thompson, June 1985
REMEMBER The Deputy, and his teenage lover, at the New York Gay Film Festival? The film What is a wonderful black comedy about a Spain that few foreigners have ever seen, nor — for that matter — all that many Spaniards. Over the past five years or so, Spanish mores have been changing at a dizzying pace. This picture wastes no time in showing us the new age that has dawned.
In the opening scene, Gloria (Carmen Maura), an attractive young cleaning woman, is going about her work in a martial arts academy in Madrid. A naked man beckons to her from the shower room. As if in a trance, Gloria joins him, fully dressed, for a steamy session under the shower.
In the hands of a lesser director than Pedro Almodovar, or with a lesser actress than Carmen Maura, the scene could have been squalid. In fact, it is funny, sad, realistic, and touching, all at the same time. And so is the whole movie!
Gloria lives in a tiny apartment in one of those low-income housing projects that ring Madrid. She swallows caffeine tablets to get through her daily 18 hours of drudgery. Her 14-year-old son Toni — cute and worldly-wise — peddles heroin to get enough money to take his hep grandmother and their pet lizard, “Money,” back to the country.
When Gloria asks her angelic 12-year-old son Miguel (Miguel Angel Herrung) where he was all night, he blandly replies, “I was at Johnny’s.” He then shrugs, “So what — it’s my body. I have a right to use it as I please.”
Later Miguel and his mother go to see the dentist. The dentist throws his arm around the beaming flirt and says, “What a beautiful boy!” Mother asks, with a smile, “Oh, you like children?” The man answers, “Yes. But I never had any and I’ve always wanted to adopt one.” He leans the lovely boy back in the dental chair and their lips almost touch.
Later Gloria “sells” Miguel to the dentist (so she can purchase a hair dryer). But she warns the man, “He's always been independent.” Young Miguel interrogates the dentist, “Do you have a TV — a video? and I want to study art.” The eager but rather plain-appearing man beams back, “No problem at all!”
Among the many amusing characters is Cristal, a barbie-doll sweet hooker who lives upstairs at the project. When she asks Toni to take out a drug purchase in trade, he declines but proposes she entertain his younger brother instead. As Cristal leads Miguel upstairs, mother reminds her to make him sandwiches for school in the morning.
In her room (decorated to promote sensuality), Cristal asks Miguel what kind of costume would turn him on. The boy solemnly answers, “That's kid stuff. You look ok.” She modestly dons a bridal outfit and Miguel rewards her with a sweet kiss on the cheek — for starters.
Starry-eyed Miguel appears again at the finale of the picture. Gloria has accidently killed her cabdriver husband. She has kissed Toni and grandma off on the bus that will take them back to the country. She comes back to her empty apartment and for a moment appears to contemplate ending it all from the tiny balcony. But wait! Suddenly Gloria sees her sweet guardian angel appear down below. Miguel explains, “It was fun at first, but I’m not ready to settle down.”
And so these two beautiful people live happily ever after, or at least until they each find “the right man”!
Reviewed in the NAMBLA Bulletin (New York), Volume VI, No. 5, page 12.
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