Global (Out)Bursts. Melodrama, Sri Lanka, and Other Tragic Histories (31 October-2 November)

This week we discussed the advent of globalization in post-Franco Spain, and how ‘democracy’ played a significant part in that period.  For your blogpost, compose a brief commentary about how you see these issues represented in ONE of the three literary pieces we are going to discuss on Thursday (by Carmé Riera, Paloma Díaz-Más and Juan Goytisolo) and Pedro Almodóvar’s film What Have I Done to Deserve This?

Please, note that for these blogposts you MUST address the literary text AND the film text in comparative fashion.  Some of you did not respect this part of the prompter last week, and that weakens your contribution and your grade.  No need to rewrite the past blogpost, but please, make sure you provide comparative readings when asked in the prompter.  Blogpost are due on Saturday November 4 at 5pm at the latest.

12 Replies to “Global (Out)Bursts. Melodrama, Sri Lanka, and Other Tragic Histories (31 October-2 November)”

  1. This week we watched the movie “What did I do to deserve this” and read several short stories. The one that stuck out to me the most when comparing the movie and text is the piece on “Sri Lanka.” The protagonist in the story is similar to that of Gloria. They both seem to be very sexually fluid and having sex with more than one person. Although, the woman didn’t have a husband in the story, she didn’t stop herself from having sex with different people in order to find a husband. The biggest similarity that I noticed between the two females is that nothing was ever good enough. Gloria’s situation was more drastic because she was a housewife and cleaning maid that was relatively poor. Gloria wasn’t able to find happiness in her neighbors, her husband, her job, her lifestyle or her kids. She was constantly upset about the living conditions and it seemed like it all stemmed from having no money. However, the woman in the story seemed to have every kind of professional success. She was a model and in movies and constantly being hired. She seemed to have a lot of money, but feels sad about not having a family and the love that she always wanted to experience. In both cases, they both just haven’t found happiness even in this new democratic state. The only time that Gloria is happy is when her friend’s daughter is putting on wallpaper for her. The woman in the story lived the life that Gloria would’ve wanted for herself, but for the woman in the story the only happiness she wanted was to be in a marriage. It’s interesting to see how this post-Franco life for women still didn’t increase their happiness, but rather just kept building on historical memory.

  2. The thematic and social parallels between the protagonist of What Did I Do to Deserve This and Surprise at Sri Lanka can’t be ignored. I found that Almodovar’s film creatively portrayed a woman trapped within her own domesticity, yet she weaponizes this domesticity to free her of a controlling marriage. Gloria seeks scandalous reprieve from her daily life of laborious cooking and cleaning for an ungrateful family through sex and drugs, though neither of these things seem to satisfy her. Even the sex, both with her husband and the policeman she cheats with, is unsatisfactory, and she outwardly denies her addiction to pills. For these reasons, Gloria represents a particularly desperate situation that so many women have found themselves in under timeless instances of patriarchy, and her use of a meat bone–one that she was use to cook nonetheless–to kill her husbands signifies a level of independence mirrored by the narrator in Surprise at Sri Lanka. This woman, who stays in hotels, is highly educated, and not only admits to casual sex but craves it, is the epitomization of the non-domestic Spanish wife. These women are entirely different, with entirely different responsibilities tethering them to their places in the world, yet they have similar endings. Both women, though seemingly having achieved some degree of independence and desire, have been fooled by those said desires. Gloria finds herself feeling isolated and lonely after her husbands death and the narrator of Sri Lanka realizes in the end that her meeting this wonderful man all was a game in the most basic form.

    1. After watching Almodovar’s film, I was immediately struck with the parallels between its protagonist and the protagonist of Sri Lanka. After reading through the posts on the blog, I wanted to respond to Maron’s because I wholly agree that though there are parallels between these women, their experiences could also not be more different. Gloria is a working-class mother trapped within the confines of her own home and family. As such, she tries to break free and find her own liberation through drug use and sexual exploration. In Almovodar’s representation of Gloria, he is showing his viewer an honest, raw look into the depression and loneliness she feels in every part of her life, and the tensions and struggles occurring within the walls of her tiny apartment. It is a different view than one would have seen during Franco’s reign. The nature of Gloria’s seemingly impossible task to find freedom within the literal and figurative walls that surround her life inherently elevates the important elements of her turn to drugs and sex, which, though they give her some sense of control in her life in the short term, ultimately turn out to not be enough to help her; her drugs become inaccessible, and her rendezvous with the impotent cop, understandably, goes nowhere, and ultimately leads to further dissatisfaction.
      However, it is this drive to find freedom and liberation that thematically connects Gloria to Sri Lanka’s protagonist. This woman is starkly different from Gloria: she is highly educated, successful in her career, and single. In short, she is the opposite of the housewife archetype. Nothing is holding her down, and nothing is tying her to any place or any person, and she openly discusses her sexual experiences and desires. However, her world holds a loneliness on the flip side of Gloria’s: in her independence and lack of domestic structure, she still finds herself alone. This idea comes to a head at the end of Sri Lanka. Just as there was an element of true tragedy in Gloria’s ultimate realization that she had not attained independence or happiness via sex, drugs, or even permanently ridding herself of her husband, there is an element of tragedy in the Sri Lanka protagonist’s realization that her entire experience with this mysterious man had in fact been calculated and planned. What she thought had been the result of perhaps a great work of fate turned out to be the opposite. Notably, the hotel had given her the reward of this specialized tour guide because she was a distinguished guest. So, despite her life of liberation, hard work, and great journalistic success, it was, ironically, this same success that resulted in her ultimate tragedy and the raw loneliness she, too, was left with in the end.

  3. In the film, What have I done to deserve this?, Pedro Almodóvar is able to turn a simple housewife into a celebrity. Over time, she is worn down by her husband and tested by society, yet in the end, she seems beautiful and triumphant. This parallels the idea of female strength in “In Search of a Portrait”, which describes a young woman hunting for an old photo of her grandmother to analyze how she must have been beautiful all her life. However, once she is able to see a wedding photo, she understands that it was through the trials and tribulations of a difficult life that Grandmother María became the strong, confident, and magnificent woman she is today.

    In the film, the main protagonist was really never calm or happy. She struggled with addictions and the need to take pills or get high from glue, and she also battled the insanity of living in a household of chaos. Somehow she was expected to provide for everyone and make sure everyone had something to eat, yet no one once seemed truly concerned for her until she went over the cliff and murdered her husband. Almodóvar is critiquing the amount of issues and difficulties that a housewife must deal with during this time period, and the extent to which she must go to be noticed and taken seriously. Finally, once everyone left her life, we see the silence in her house and the fact that she isn’t sure what to do with herself, so she contemplates suicide in the final minutes of the film, yet it is her child who saves her by reminding her of what she truly loves in this world. But what does that say about a life of a housewife? That her children are all she has to live for? I believe Almodóvar may also be critiquing how society views the role of the housewife in a sense that her life is worth so much more than just being the vessel to bare children. Yet, Almodóvar also seems to be paying respect to her role as a housewife, revealing her inner strength and beauty in the final moments of the film, after she has fought through all the problems that had developed throughout her life.

  4. This week, we began looking at cinema and literature in the post-Franco Spain. I am comparing the film, What Have I Done to Deserve This, with the literary piece written by Carme Riera, Surprise at Sri Lanka. The women in both seem like opposites, yet parallels can be drawn between them.

    In the literary text, the woman was independent and accomplished but was not fulfilled when it came to her relationships. While in the movie, the woman was not accomplished, she was overworked, in suffering, and she also got the worst end in relationships as well. At the end, the woman in the text breaks out of her norm and finds her own form of happiness. Everything bad happens to the woman in the movie, while in the text, the woman finds happiness and freedom at the end. In the film, many barriers in the woman’s life are removed, leaving her more at peace than when the film started. Both woman obtain some form of freedom in their own ways. This reflects the current time period, as Spain is leaving the Franco period and entering the Socialist period. Spain is trying to find their identity over again which leads to confusion and hardship. Another contrast is the education levels these woman are at. The woman from Surprise at Sri Lanka is clearly educated and more put together, while the woman from What Have I Done To Deserve This is illiterate. Even though she is illiterate, she is the one handling her family and is trying to make ends meet. The educated woman has an easier time doing that, but that is also her goal, which is another similarity between these women.

    All in all, as we enter this new era of the arts, we can already see the government’s effect on film and literature. As Spain enters a new era, so does cinema and literature.

  5. Rather than draw parallels, I would propose that Almodovar’s What Have I Done to Deserve This is the antithesis to Riera’s Surprise in Sri Lanka. However these pieces seem to converge in a similar aftertaste of irresolute dissatisfaction. Rieras story presents the figure of a post-destape liberated woman who through her economic and sexual freedom ultimately finds unhappiness in the lack of normative interpersonal relationships and lifestyle. Almodovar’s film presents a trapped and abused housewife and mother whose dissatisfaction is sublimated through the cinematography. We can see a passage from the ethical to the aesthetic by means of the absurd which seeps into the story lines of most of the secondary characters(e.g. her younger son, the neighbors daughter, the husbands ex-lover).

    Ultimately, the use of cynicism is tactfully applied to either’s inability to escape their immediate reality. The last scene of Almodovar’s film presents Gloria arriving to her now empty apartment and leaning on the balcony. In this suspenseful moment, the viewer questions if she is going to take her own life as a shot of the street down bellow is shown. Her son soon appears to announce his return and Gloria hugs him and announces that she is happy he is back. However, the bittersweet resolution is that she will remain within her role of a mother instead of seeking the ultimate freedom within death after the failure of any other attempt of liberation. In a similar manner, Rieras character finds the happiness and fulfillment she was seeking through her trip, only for it to be completely flipped around in the last moments of the story where she realizes that her lover was a hired tour guide.

  6. This week we studied the chaotic era of The Transition, the period after the death of Franco. During this period the people of Spain indulged in new freedoms that they were not allotted throughout the Franco Regime’s fascist rule. This was heavily reflected in Spanish cinema as various aspects of society which have been repressed for so long are now in the forefront of film and literature. These aspects ranged from the Catalan identity to homosexuality.

    The film What Have I done to deserve this? is a textbook depiction of this newfound freedoms as the depictions of prostitution, pre marital sex, homosexuality, drugs and transgenderism are all liberally depicted in a new light throughout the film. The character of the mother and her various relationships depict the normalcy of casual sex and prostitution in this new Spain going through its destape period in film. Pedro Almodovar’s scene in which he recites songs which the grandma loves and the sons ignores to a transgender woman perfectly depicts the reactions of Spain to the chaos of having the freedom to do as it pleases.

    The two readings are deeply seeded within the narrative of the film, yet they depict completely different aspects of the film. The reading about Sri Lanka represents the new found freedom of women in which they are able to divorce and engage in causal encounters with less worry about honor and being alienated from society. Ultimately it does depict the longing women feel for marriage and stability but the fact that the women has the choice to choose her partners rather than her being bound to a loveless marriage shows the fast progress of Spain as it pertains to freedom of agency for women. The other novel depicts the aspect of the grandma of the film, but in a very different light. The grandma in the literature piece is very put together and elegant while the women in the film is very disheveled and does not partake in the duties of the home such as cooking and cleaning. Lastly, both women are of a village yet they have very different views of their respective villages.

  7. A woman’s search for happiness and economic independence is a theme in the narratives in Almodovar’s What Have I Done to Deserve This and Riera’s Surprise at Sri Lanka. These works similarly explore the role of women in society. We see as these women are searching for their independence and their identities, under divergent circumstances. Almodovar and Riera pose a similar question, asking “What makes a woman happy.” Almodovar explores this question and examines a woman’s domestic life and its constraints. Gloria is imprisoned by the confines of her domestic life. While she eventually achieves a form of liberation after she accidentally kills her husband, she is left isolated and on the verge of suicide until her son comes home. Riera, on the other hand, examines the life of a seemingly liberated and economically independent woman, who is searching for her happiness abroad. She travels from Spain to Sri Lanka after her divorce. She is liberated from her ex-husband and from her responsibilities at home. They are given a taste of freedom and sexual liberation, which is stolen from them.

    Both women are merely teased with the potential of sexual liberation and fulfillment. Gloria acts on her sexual desires and has an encounter with the police officer. However, his impotence restricts her from feeling satisfied. She is baited with the opportunity for a temporary release from her daily life, but is left feeling frustrated. In Surprise at Sri Lanka, the protagonist is left feeling satisfied after an emotional and physical encounter, but her temporary satisfaction is stripped from her when she discovers she essentially won the man as a raffle prize. She realizes that their relationship was not real and that the pleasure she felt was fabricated. She, too, is left feeling frustrated and trapped.

  8. Both the film What Have I Done to Deserve This? and the short story “In Search of a Portrait” have components of globalization and because these pieces were created after Franco’s death there content is not as censored. In Pablo Almodovar’s film audiences from all over the world would be able to recognize an unhappy housewife, but because this was filmed after Fascism new topics arise that were not previously addressed. For example, when Gloria’s blood drops onto the lizard named Money it can be interpreted as tainted money. This theme of dirty money is seen throughout the film: the older son earns money from selling drugs, Cristal earns her money from being a prostitute, and Gloria’s husband made money by forging documents. I believe that if Franco was still alive this theme would not have been included in the film at all. Globally the theme of dirty money could have been deduced because the lizard, whose name is Money, literally gets dirty from the blood.

    In the short story by Paloma Diaz-Mas the way the narrator is in awe with her grandmother is something that people from different countries would be able to relate to, if they have ever had to the chance to meet their grandmother. The narrator goes on to say that her grandmother is always cooking in the kitchen, washing dishes, or being inventive (making soap with soda and grease). She is describing a woman who is content with living in a small mountain town by herself and being her own housewife.

  9. Almodovar’s film What Have I done to Deserve This compares to the literary text we read by Riera “Surprise at Sri Lanka.” The two woman protagonists lead very different lives, but are both haunted by sexual frustration and isolation from the opposite sex. Gloria (Carmen Maura) has a terrible husband and two absent sons. Her opening has her leap into a shower with an impotent man and they mess around in there until their time is up. Almodovar is working with symbolism here with the impotent man, who happens to be a police investigator. Gloria finally decides to cheat on her abusive husband and of course she finds herself doing it with a man who simply cannot fill the void. In the end, she cannot win even when she daringly and unfaithfully tries cheating on her husband. It just so happens she picked the wrong one to do it with.

    The “She” in “Surprise at Sri Lanka” is not a house maid like Gloria. In fact, she is a successful, self-made woman. However, like Gloria, she too finds herself without proper companionship from a man. Deciding to go on vacation alone to Sri Lanka, she looks for a possible partner. Without any luck, she settles for a 20 year old local tour guide. The boy is charming and attractive and on her last nights they have intercourse. Then they part ways. Like Gloria, she did not find exactly what she was looking for. However, there is an argument to be made that both women found a modicum of sexual liberation in their adventures. It is interesting to compare these two pieces of art and their protagonists because when you consider how they are similar, you learn more about each one.

  10. The film we watched for this week and the text we read made created a juxtaposition between womanhood and sexuality in the Post Franco era. In “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” made by Pedro Almodovar, the protagonist Gloria faces a monotonous life style and a lack of sexual outlets. We see her living in an alternate reality where giving her son to the dentist is normalized, and a girl with telekinetic powers is met with awe rather than ostracism. Gloria embodies an unsatisfied housewife that is powerlessly forced into a life of tediousness. Whereas in “Surprise at Sri Lanka”, the main female protagonist is represented as a strong and independent woman who has had multiple affairs but never felt connected to a male counterpart. Both of the endings evoke an unsettling feeling, signifying the characters’ eternal unhappiness. The motif of cycles is consistent in both the film and the text because in the text it refers to the character’s continuous affairs but also continuous dissatisfaction, which Gloria’s lack of sexual consistency also invokes. Comparing these woman, they embody different types of woman that existed during the Post-Franco period: women that had multiple sexual encounters but did not find meaningful relationships, and woman that were encroached into Franco’s mold but now are free and are unaware of how to begin life again.

  11. In the works we discussed this week, Paloma Díaz Más’ “In Search of a Portrait” and Almodovar’s What Did I Do to Deserve This?,  two women are depicted in contrasting lights. “In Search of a Portrait” describes a grandmother, who is more than content with and has mastered her life of domesticity. She, according to her granddaughter, radiates beauty. In contrast, the female protagonist as shown by Almodovar is a disheveled, drug-addicted, neurotic housewife without even an inkling of happiness or beauty. The contrast, within just the personalities and condition of the two women, is clear. What struck me the most in terms of contrast, though, was how the grandmother in “In Search of a Portrait” acquired her beauty: “The golden age of Grandmother María was not, then, the product of the decline of a lovely youth: her beauty had been forged over the course of many years, like the beauty of some trees,  of some rocks, of some noble buildings dignified by the rains and the winds that polished their stones” (227).  Grandmother María, then, lived a life that built her up to be the admirable woman depicted in the work. In stark contrast, though, the burdened housewife in Almodovar’s film lives a deteriorating life. By the end of the film, she looks defeated and definitely does not radiate any sort of beauty.

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