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How to Be Miserable and Enjoy It

In this Spanish comedy, the fabulously gifted Carmen Maura plays a role similar to her hilarious turn in Pedro Alomodovar's "Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown." There may be an international audience for this commercial crowd-pleaser that could be exploited on the basis of Maura's popularity and congenial humor.

With:
Carmen ... Carmen Maura Antonio ... Antonio Resines Marta ... Irene Bau Romualdo ... Ramon Madaula

In this Spanish comedy, the fabulously gifted Carmen Maura plays a role similar to her hilarious turn in Pedro Alomodovar’s “Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown.” There may be an international audience for this commercial crowd-pleaser that could be exploited on the basis of Maura’s popularity and congenial humor.

Premise is similar to that of the 1981 French pic “La Vie Continue,” which was loosely remade in the U.S. as “Men Don’t Leave.” In all three films, a middle-aged woman, whose husband suddenly dies, struggles with her newfound widowhood before achieving a new identity.

Since the message of these comedic dramas — life must go on — is simple and familiar, the only amusing element for viewers to observe is the specific experiences and struggles of these women before they finally gain a new sense of independence and self-worth.

Amiable tale begins as the adulterous Carmen (Maura) gets home one morning after having spent the night playing poker and having fun with her male friends. Her jealous husband throws a tantrum, and soon afterward, is stricken with a fatal heart attack.

At first, Carmen feels emotional emptiness, loneliness, and disorientation. She also realizes that her new status signals availability in the eyes of her male boss and colleagues at the newspaper where she works. Things get more complicated when Carmen’s teenage daughter, Marta (Irene Bau), who studies ballet in Paris, announces she is pregnant.

Like most Spanish comedies of the last decade, the encounters and humor revolve around the libido. Most of the situations in “Miserable” are as funny as they are familiar, though overall pic lacks the outrageous wit, high style and camp that mark Alomodovar’s best comedies.

Carmen experiences sexual harassment and a couple of dates with men who talk big about sex, but prove impotent. Finally, Carmen meets her new prince, a handsome businessman who treats her like a mature woman. It’s one of the comedy’s fresh touches that Carmen’s anticipation of becoming a grandmother contributes to her autonomy much more than does her career.

It’s also clear that without a truly charismatic actress, this slight, rather uneven movie could not exist: Maura’s captivating performance is the glue that holds the episodic structure together.

A rare performer, Maura serves commanding notice whenever she’s onscreen. Helmer Urbizu must have realized that, for Maura is in every scene.

How to Be Miserable and Enjoy It

(SPANISH)

Production: An Atrium production. (International sales: Iberoamericana Films). Produced by Enrique Cerezo, Carlos Vasallo. Executive producer, Andres Vicente Gomez. Directed by Enrique Urbizu. Screenplay, Carmen Rico-Godoy, Jose Luis Garcia Sanchez, based on the novel by Rico-Godoy.

Crew: Camera (color), Angel Luis Fernandez; editor, Pablo Blanco; music, Bingen Mendizabal. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 16, 1994. Running time: 85 MIN.

With: Carmen ... Carmen Maura Antonio ... Antonio Resines Marta ... Irene Bau Romualdo ... Ramon Madaula

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