Starring: Christina Sanchez Pascual, Julietta Serrano, Chus Lampreave
Director/writer: Pedro Almodovar
Distributor: Hopscotch Entertainment
Nuns shooting up behind closed doors; taking acid with their vows of chastity; lusting after fallen women who seek refuge in their holy sanctuary? It could only be the work of that devilish master of Spanish cinema, Pedro Almodovar. Taking a good old swipe at what he sees as the hypocrisy of the Catholic church, Almodovar sets his third feature film in a decaying convent where the moral fibre of those living within its walls is just as strong as the structure of the building itself – in other words, not very.
Launching into his tale with characteristic melodramatic flair, Almodovar presents us with nightclub singer Yolanda Bel (Christina Sanchez Pascual), forced to flee downtown Madrid after her boyfriend overdoses on a hit of heroin laced with strychnine. In her handbag is a card from an unconventional fan, the Mother Superior of a religious order known as ‘The Humiliated Redeemers’. Still wearing her red sequinned showgirl gown, she arrives at their door and falls into the all too welcoming arms of the self-degrading nuns.
Two of Almodovar’s favourite actresses, Carmen Maura and Chus Lampreave, play Sister Damned and Sister Sewer Rat respectively; the former is found beating away at a set of tom-tom drums in an attempt to placate her overgrown pet tiger, while the latter is secretly scribing a series of soft-core pulp fiction novels which serve to vent her pent up emotions. Together with Sister Manure, who receives sacred psychedelic visions while tripping on LSD, and Sister Snake, whose penchant for lurid fashion statements manifests itself in the outrageous religious vestments she concocts, the Humiliated Redeemers dream of salvation. But their desires are all too human and no amount of religious fervour can suppress them.
Touching on some of the themes that he would later explore in Bad Education (2004), Almodovar reveals his attitude towards the church in no uncertain terms. That he manages to do so with such humour and tenderness is testament to his artistry. It may not be a perfect film, but it represents his first attempt at a mainstream movie and provides the kooky bedrock on which his later triumphs were based.