is a native New Yorker who managed to live in four of its five boroughs
before ditching it all for a house in rural Spain. While not reviewing
the newest films and toreadors, Frank enjoys whiling away the hours
working on his first novel. This review appeared in
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by Pedro Almodovar
undisputed voice of Spanish cinema for almost more than twenty years,
writer and director Pedro Almodovar's latest film Hable con Ella
(Talk to Her) is as much a must see as Women on the Verge
of a Nervous Breakdownor and All About My Mother, not only
because of the tender, extraordinary human drama it recounts, but also
because it finds the master challenging himself, creating a new cinematic
vocabulary that touches the viewer as powerfully as all the blood, guts
and sex that has come before.
first scene of the film, a modern dance performance, is telling. In
dance, it is quickly apparent, Almodovar has learned to read and express
the hideous and blissful messages that the human body communicates
in movement. An older woman, seemingly blind, agonizes and stumbles
around a stage filled with wooden chairs. A young man struggles to
move the chairs out of harm's way as she stumbles across the floor
and falls, quite literally, into despair. Upstage, a younger woman
dressed similarly echoes her movements in smaller, more subtle action.
film is infused with these scenes of human motion - the lethal dance
of a matador and a bull, the hands of a nurse sensuously massaging
the body of a beautiful young woman, the minuet of lava-lamp globules
breaking apart and ricocheting in a pool of oil. Watching the drama
unfold on stage are Marco and Benigno, two men who will later careen
and tumble emotionally across the movie screen. That these men sit
only inches apart, but do not acknowledge each other, is as much a
dance of characters for Almodovar as the costumed
ballerinas on stage.
majority of the film takes place in The Forest, an aptly named clinic
for patients who suffer from comas, trapped in a state of unreality
that recalls the dreamy nighttime woods of Shakespeare. Marco (Dario
Grandinetti) and Benigno (Javier Camara) are waiting at the clinic
for their loved ones to return to the sun-drenched world of the living.
Marco is the most newly arrived, his toreador girlfriend having been
gored in the ring - their history together has been brief and he's
uncomfortable amidst former lovers and hysterical relatives.
finds refuge with Benigno, a nurse at The Forest whose only charge
is a beautiful young dancer whom he had developed a crush on before
her accident. While able to converse freely with one another, the
men are plagued by what they never said to their respective loves.
Benigno had innocently stalked Alicia (Leonor Watling) over the course
of two weeks, only to find her one day as his new patient at the clinic.
Marco, a writer, spent too much of his brief time with Lydia (Rosario
Flores) talking, as writers do, and not listening.
story follows the suffering of these two unrequited lovers using a
series of flashbacks to tell each of their individual stories. The
deliberately time-stamped sections are a new narrative tool for Almodovar,
who typically has left things up to his audience to figure out. The
sequencing gives the impression of jumping forward only to cut back
twice - not in a disjointed, Tarantino-esque fashion, but in a manner
that allows each story and relationship to develop, building slowly
and fleshing out the complexities of the men who remember.
constant care and affection for Alicia is a bit eccentric, but his
attitude is what one would hope for from a good nurse - he truly believes
that Alicia, and perhaps all the patients, will one day miraculously
awaken. As a veteran of the coma ward, he advises Marco to talk to
his girlfriend in a coma, "talk to her." Marco's frustrated
response, "She's brain dead," only elicits the glib, yet
nuanced Almodovarism, "Yes, but women are complicated."
Benigno's naive hope is ultimately his downfall, but in a turn, it
is also Marco's salvation when the two forge an unlikely, lasting
friendship of the type that can only emerge from communal suffering.
When Marco finally does take Benigno's piece of advice in the final
scene of the film, there's a calm, a peace that he seems to find;
to whom he does the talking is Almodovar's best-kept secret.
1997's Live Flesh, Almodovar's films have been maturing thematically
as well as narratively. After exploring the visceral and abject in
films like Matador, Tie Me Up Tie me Down and Kika,
he's shown more interest lately in the subtlety of the human condition:
growth and enlightenment, often born of pain. He no longer needs to
color the screen with blood, guts and violent sex. Where once there
might have been a disturbing scene of sexual aggression (think Kika),
there are now intimations of action off screen, or equally effective,
two Almodovars come into stark relief by way of an original silent
film that punctuates the narrative of "Talk to Her." The
exquisitely executed short The Shrinking Lover (think Bela
Lugosi's Dracula) is a technical gem, but more importantly
it serves as a comic venue where Almodovar can bare his teeth. The
bratty, vulgar sex-fiend Almodovar returns and lets fly with a scene
of intercourse only he is capable of delivering: a shrunken man, a
six-foot tall vagina, and an all-consuming lust. It's a good laugh
for the audience, but the consequences for the intended audience of
this film within the film, Benigno, are ironically quite confusing
to Her is full of surprises like these - for Almodovar veterans
and newcomers - not only in its slowly unfolding plot, but also in
the new an inventive way Almodovar has found to tell his story. With
a filmography that reads like El Quixote, it's no wonder Almodovar
has begun to interest himself in not only what story to tell, but
how to tell it. Given a tough assignment to follow the success of
All About My Mother, Talk to Her proves once again that Almodovar
is at the top of his game and truly one of the world's best, most