Friday, July 15, 2011

Short Review: Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar, 2002)

Of the fourteen films Almodovar had directed up until this point, Talk to Her is considered one of his most controlled and sustained films. It is only my third experience with his filmmaking, following All About My Mother (1999) and Bad Education (2004), but it is quite extraordinary. It is actually a difficult film to describe, and I think knowing more about Almodovar's films (I sense that it is quite personal and self-reflexive) will deem this even more rewarding.

It's a stunningly beautiful film, full of luscious colours and crisp cinematography. The score is stellar, and it's pacing is very controlled and purposeful - almost meditative. It is strangely compelling considering a lot of the film is comprised of conversations. Surprisingly, it is also quite a disconcerting experience, especially in its silencing of women. This is especially notable because quite often in Almodovar's films, women adopt the central characters. Almodovar still places women at the centre of this film, but they do not reciprocate communication. Talk to Her won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay after picking up the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. It deals with the difficulty of communication between the sexes, loneliness and intimacy and the persistence of love beyond loss.

Benigno (Javier Camara) and Marco (Dario Grandinetti) cross paths when they sit next to one another at a dance concert, only eventually meeting again at a private clinic where Beningo works. There, he is the personal nurse for Alicia (Leonor Watling), a beautiful dance student who lies in a coma, and with whom Benigno has become obsessed. Marco, a journalist and travel writer, is at the clinic to visit his girlfriend Lydia (Rosario Flores), a famous matador who is also comatose after being gorged by a bull. The story unfolds in flashbacks, providing details of the two relationships, and in the present, as the men befriend one another.

We don't find out the extent of Benigno's relationship with Alicia until later in the film, with the first third primarily focused on Marco and Lydia. Benigno lives across the street from Alicia's dance school, and he befriends her after returning her dropped wallet. He then feigns a mental illness to secure an appointment with her psychiatrist father, and to gain access to her house in the hope of seeing her again. The friendship between the men starts about 40 minutes in, when Lydia is admitted, and Benigno, who recognises Marco from the concert, doesn't think twice about beckoning him into Alicia's room to converse. He instructs Marco to talk to Lydia, to tell her stories and converse normally, remaining convinced that he and Alicia have a stronger relationship than most lovers do, despite her comatose state. The men bond over their shared devotion to women who are not aware of, and cannot return, their affections.

During this period of suspended time between the walls of the clinic, the lives of the four characters flow in all different directions; past, present and future, dragging all of them towards a very unexpected destiny. Marco eventually leaves Lydia when her previous lover informs him that they had reunited a month before Lydia's accident. He travels to Jordan to write a tourist guide; and while there, he reads in a newspaper that Lydia has died in her coma. After calling the hospital he also hears of Benigno's sudden imprisonment, which leads to quite a shocking revelation; a malicious activity hidden by an amusing and memorable silent film, which I won't divulge.

Needless to say, with Talk to Her, you enter a world of subjective motivations, responses and actions, with some quite disturbing connotations subtly downplayed by some clever redirection. We feel incredibly moved (and the conclusion is sensational) though the actions of one character in particular should evoke nothing but disapproval. I don't know if it is the place to start with Almodovar; I think All About My Mother is a much more accessible film, but this is certainly a must see.

My Rating: 4 1/2 Stars (A-)


  1. I thought you were talking about his newest film "The Skin I Live In" or something on Skype - not this.

    I've heard great things. Nice review.

    "Needless to say, with Talk to Her, you enter a world of subjective motivations, responses and actions, with some quite disturbing connotations subtly downplayed by some clever redirection"

    That's some fine writing - almost as wordy as Armond White ;D

  2. This is the first Almodovar film that I saw and really liked. Since then with the exception of his new film. I had seen everything he did from Kika to Broken Embraces. I enjoy them as I hope to see his earlier work.

  3. @ Sam - Thanks dude. But, yeah, I told you this film! When would I have seen The Skin I Live In? Haha.

    @ Steven - Yeah, my exposure to Almodovar has so far been excellent! Looking forward to tackling both his earlier, and later, work too!

  4. I like this movie. It feels as if there's less camp and more of a consistent tone here.

    Also, if you want a consistently good Almodovar experience, avoid Bad Education. Sure Bernal is amazing in it but...

  5. Yeah, I still thought Bad Eduction was a good film. As usual with Almodovar, it's quite a unique experience, but it doesn't match All About My Mother and Talk to Her for me!