Film Reviews


By • Dec 25th, 2002 •

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A Sony Pictures Classics Release.
112 minutes / Rated R / In Spanish with English subtitles.

There’s a very old and very sexist joke that says the perfect marriage would be the pairing of a blind wife with a deaf husband. In Talk to Her, writer-director Pedro Almodóvar flirts with the idea that an equally perfect pairing would be between a lovesick, virginal man and a beautiful but, unfortunately, comatose woman.

I know, I know, this sounds like a sick joke, but it actually makes for a mysteriously lovely movie. How people communicate—and how they don’t, or can’t—has been a terrific theme for dramatists and filmmakers for at least the last 75 years; Almodóvar brings his own brand of gender-bending and his infatuation with females, and female beauty, to bear on this conflict. Amazingly, he accomplishes this with a fairly light touch—the angst of non-communication is filtered through the juicy, entertaining melodrama of a soap opera.

At the heart of Talk to Her are two couples: Marco (Darío Grandinetti) and Lydia (Rosario Flores), and Benigno (Javier Cámara) and Alicia (Leonor Watling). Marco is a hunky, sensitive journalist who becomes involved with female bullfighter Lydia; both are struggling to free themselves from the emotional chains of difficult previous relationships. Benigno is a male nurse caring for Alicia, the lovely former dance student and current coma victim (he did know her, briefly, while she was still vertical). Fate brings the men together when Lydia, gored in the bullring, also succumbs to a coma and is placed in the same clinic that houses Alicia.

Almodóvar fractures the narrative, overlaying and interweaving these stories while moving back and forth in time. He uses a variety of devices to make us aware that there are multiple stories being told in this one film, which opens with a strange modern dance performance choreographed by Pina Bausch. Marco and Benigno are in the audience: they happen to be sitting next to each other, but they don’t actually meet until several months later at the clinic. Clear? Well, it’s not really that important to the overall flow. It’s more important that the performance moves Marco to tears, even though it’s never exactly explained why.

Another story-within-the-stories is the highlight and encapsulation of the entire film: a silent movie that pays homage to the 1950s sci-fi flick The Incredible Shrinking Man. Almodóvar’s mini-masterpiece literalizes the sexual subtext of that and similar films (i.e. The Fly). When the woman towers over the man (literally and figuratively), how can he satisfy her sexually? Almodóvar has a unique answer that may leave some people uncomfortable, but is, in the context of this film, nothing short of miraculous.

Talk to Her isn’t perfect. It’s a bit slow (and stops dead for a song by Caetano Veloso that’s good for mood, bad for moving the story ahead). It could also use a bit more humor; Almodóvar obviously recognizes the coincidences that drive the stories forward as the contrivances they are, so it wouldn’t hurt to let the audience in on the joke more often (as he does with the silent movie).

Even when the pacing drags, the performances are superlative. Grandinetti’s Marco is an appealing mix of openness and mystery, sensitivity and frustration. Flores’ Lydia maintains her femininity even as she is strapped into her tight, gender-eliminating bullfighting outfit. Leonor Watling’s Alicia makes you understand how someone could fall deeply, madly in love with her in her few non-comatose scenes.

Finally, Javier Cámara’s Benigno is a truly remarkable performance. Cámara’s broad face and wide eyes make him seem harmless, even a bit clownish, and his matter-of-fact line deliveries when he’s saying the most outrageous things provide the verbal equivalent of a double take. Cámara balances innocence and creepiness, love and obsession, desperation and calm acceptance in a way that’s ultimately extremely touching.

Talk to Her is itself an appealing combination—both mood piece and melodrama. Almodóvar, known for outrageous, overheated plots and flamboyant female performances, seems to be branching out in interesting ways.

Javier Cámara,
Darío Grandinetti,
Leonor Watling,
Rosario Flores,
Geraldine Chaplin.

Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar

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