Talk to Her
Hable con ella
review by Dan
Lybarger, 31 January 2003
Spanish writer-director Pedro
Almodóvar makes movies that warm the cockles of your heart while
putting a knot in your stomach. His Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
features Antonio Banderas as the most sympathetic stalker-home
invader in screen history. Almodóvar is about the only filmmaker
who'd make an elaborate series of gags built around a rape -- and
come close to getting away with it. His latest movie, Talk to Her,
offers more of the same. Fortunately, Almodóvar also includes a
tighter and more sophisticated narrative and some genuine surprises.
He toys with audience expectations, confirming suspicions at some
points and demolishing them at others.
The film's opening is a perfect
example. He cuts between a morose-looking ballet sequence and two
men watching from the audience. At first glance, the two appear to
be lovers, albeit mismatched ones. The portly, boyish-looking
Benigno (Javier Cámara, Sex and Lucia) is paying only polite
attention, whereas the tall, lean and bald Marco (Darío Grandinetti)
is moved to tears by the bizarre dance. We quickly discover that the
two are actually strangers who just happened to be seated next to
each other. Benigno works as a male nurse, and his only patient is
Alicia (Leonor Watling), a former dance student who has been
comatose for four years. The nurse looks after her as if she were
his own daughter, describing his latest happenings with her as if
she could hear him and respond.
The Argentinean Marco winds up
getting to know Benigno when as similar tragedy happens to someone
close to him. Working as a journalist and travel writer in Madrid,
he comes across a potential story about a bullfighter named Lydia
(Rosario Flores, Danzón), who usually gets more publicity
for her romantic issues than for her obvious skill in the ring.
After giving her a ride and ridding her house of a snake, Marco
winds up landing both her story and her heart. But the match may not
have been meant to be because a bull literally knocks the life out
of her and sends her to a hospital room next to Alicia.
Because of the gaudy colors and the
almost dreamlike fluency of Javier Aguirresarobe's camerawork, this
prolonged double-date between two men and their unconscious
paramours is both outlandish and weirdly credible. It works because
the two men also wind up exorcising their demons in the process.
Because of his job and his longing eyes, nobody seems to be able to
tell what Benigno's sexuality is. Alicia's father takes comfort in a
stranger caressing his daughter because he thinks Benigno is gay.
But having lived almost all of his adult life caring for his mother,
Benigno says he's never had sex with anyone one and talks about
Alicia as if the two were in an active relationship.
Marco retreats to his dreams where
he and Lydia are still whole, but he's still haunted by the fact
that his final afternoon with Lydia consisted almost entirely of his
own chatter. Even though he's more settled in the head than Benigno,
Marco is as paralyzed inside as Lydia is physically. Apparently
ballets aren't the only things that make him burst into tears. From
here, Almodóvar sets up another perverse jolt. Talk to Her
has already made an impact in its native country. Spain refused to
submit the film for Oscar consideration because of this development.
His greatest offense might be that he manages to make this
subversive thinking compelling.
Almodóvar pulls his viewers into
the same mindset as his protagonists. When Lydia puts on her
bullfighting costume, the camera follows her body and the florid
costume in loving detail, making her look both feminine and
androgynously tough. The outfit is so tight that she needs a male
assistant to help her into it, making the simple act of dressing
look oddly and engrossingly kinky. Similarly, he also makes the
hospital scenes look both tender and steamy. In contrast to the
sterile walls, Benigno and Alicia's time together has a warmth and
intimacy that stands out in the environment. Almodóvar also scores
some wonderful bits of satire. With marvelous precision, he skewers
celebrity journalists who pretend to be friendly with their subjects
while prying them for embarrassing details (Has he seen any Barbara
Walters specials?). He
also pokes fun at occupational euphemisms. In Almodóvar's Spain,
prisoners are called "interns."
For all of his clever visual and
verbal touches, the potentially sordid material wouldn't work if the
cast wasn't universally solid. With little relative screen time,
Flores and Watling both leave vivid impressions. The cherub-faced Cámara
projects an innocuous sweetness that could make one forgive him for
mass murder. There's also a welcome supporting turn from Geraldine
Chaplin as Alicia's dance teacher. Thanks to his fertile imagination
and talented support, Almodóvar will continue to make potentially
offensive ideas engrossingly, even if he's overdue for some serious
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult