Dark Habits

Movie Information

Dark Habits is part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World being presented at 8 p.m. Friday, May 18, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville (enter at Walnut next to Scully's or at 13 Carolina Lane).
Genre: Black Comedy Drama
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Cristina Sánchez Pascual, Julieta Serrano, Carmen Maura, Chus Lampreave
Rated: R

Dark Habits (1983) marks Pedro Almodóvar’s first fully professionally made (read: studio-backed) film. While the filmmaker himself has somewhat distanced himself from it on that basis—feeling that there were too many concessions to the corporate powers—it’s hard to imagine how it could be any more Almodóvar-esque than it is. It certainly doesn’t want for the casual outrageousness of Almodóvar’s films. Let’s face it, it’s a movie about a junkie pop singer, Yolanda (Cristina Sanchez Pascual, Labyrinth of Passion), whose boyfriend (Will More) dies from a dose of strychnine-laced heroin, prompting her to seek sanctuary with an order of extremely strange nuns, “The Humiliated Redeemers.” The Mother Superior (Julieta Serrano) is a not very repressed lesbian and a fan of Yolanda—and herself a junkie. The rest of the convent isn’t exactly a hotbed of nun-like decorum either. Sister Damned (Carmen Maura, Volver) is a bongo-playing animal lover with a pet tiger. Sister Sewer Rat (Chus Lampreave, Volver) is in reality the author of a popular series of trashy novels with titles like Get Out of Here, You Swine, Lost in the Big City, Call of the Flesh and Secretaries Cry, Too. There’s also a chain-smoking, movie-fanatic priest (Manuel Zarzo), who waxes rhapsodic about Cecil Beaton’s costumes for My Fair Lady and harbors a secret. And there’s a mystery surrounding the fate of a previous obsession of the Mother Superior—not to mention a fleeting appearance by Almodóvar himself as a bus passenger. In other words, it sounds like vintage Almodóvar—and it pretty much is.

Not only is this strange tale full of Almodóvar stock players, but so much of the film’s attitude is essential Almodóvar. Cheesy sentimental songs are described as “music that really tells the truth about life.” Trash literature is not only praised (“I love sensationalist literature”), but praised for being “rubbish” (“That’s why I like them. Serious books put me to sleep”). When the Mother Superior tells Sister Sewer Rat, “Your taste leaves a lot to be desired,” the nun calmly remarks, “I never said otherwise.” These are the very building blocks of Almodóvar’s cinema, which trades in trashy, improbable stories, sentimental songs and a fondness for “bad taste.” These are the themes repeatedly explored in his subsequent films—and it’s a delightful surprise to find them laid out so clearly in this quirky black comedy.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.