DVD Review: Essentials – Pedro Almodóvar

Dark Habits Wellspring
Movie ••• Picture •••½ Sound½ Extras None
What Have I Done to Deserve This? Wellspring
Movie •••½ Picture ••½ Sound ••½ Extras None

Although these two films will be essential for fans of director Pedro Almodóvar, the crude early work Dark Habits (1983) may be of little interest to anyone else. While this tale of a singer taking refuge in the most wacko convent in Spain seems awfully clumsy compared with his later films, you can already see him toying with some of the ideas and even the peculiar dark tone of his recent work.

Meanwhile, What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984) is a leisurely, genial demolition of the whole concept of the nuclear family, with Carmen Maura as Madrid's most harried (and sexually frustrated) hausfrau, stuck in a clan so dysfunctional that nothing onscreen has beaten it since. This was Almodóvar's international breakout hit, and it remains both sloppily and consistently amusing.

This two-disc Essentials set appears to be a repackaging of DVDs that have been available separately for several years. If so, the films still need to be remastered. Dark Habits has a decent transfer with only a few artifacts, but its mono sound comes in and out like a distant radio station. The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix simply spreads it across the front channels. Although What Have I Done's picture is hazy, Almodóvar's trademark vivid colors pop decently. Stick with the mono track on this one, because it has better clarity and impact than the 5.1 track. There are no extras. Both: [NR] Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2-channel mono; anamorphic widescreen; dual layer. Dark Habits: letterboxed (1.66:1). What Have I Done: letterboxed (1.78:1).

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