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 counseling.

Written and
Directed by:

Pedro Almodóvar

Javier Cámara
Darío Grandinetti
Leonor Watling
Rosario Flores
Geraldine Chaplin
Mariola Fuentes
Roberto Álvarez
Adolfo Fernández
Fele Martínez
Paz Vega

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult






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