Talk to Her (Habla con Ella)

Written by:
George Wu
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Talk to Her opens with a scene from Pina Bausch’s Cafe Muller.Two older women (one of them Bausch herself) in translucent slips blindly stagger about a stage littered with chairs and desks while a Puck of a man scampers about knocking the furniture out of their path. It acts as a metaphor for the main story about two men caring for women they cannot truly have.Clearing the obstacles in their way proves much more difficult because the obstacles may be the men themselves.

The men are freelance writer Marco (Dario Grandinetti) and nurse Benigno (Javier Camara). Marco observes female bullfighter Lydia (Rosario Flores) on television extricating herself from an obnoxious talk show host (uproarious Loles Leon) and her prying questions over Lydia’s recent break with fellow bullfighter El Nino (Adolfo Fernandez). Long in recovering from his own breakup with �ngela (Elena Anaya), Marco feels a kinship with Lydia and pursues her for a story.Marco and Lydia fall in love and all appears well until Lydia is gored by a bull and sent into a coma. At the hospital, Marco encounters Benigno, privately hired to take care of the also comatose Alicia (Leonor Watling), once a ballet student.As Marco and Benigno’s friendship develops, Benigno’s bizarre relationship with Alicia comes to light.

Talk to Her is about the need for human companionship and the self-delusions inherent in relationships. Writer-director Pedro Almodovar (Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, All About My Mother) is at the top of his game here. He has crafted a work searing on many levels and has shaped in Benigno the most powerfully ambivalent character in recent fiction. The movie also includes what may be the most outrageous scene put on celluloid this year in a segment called "Shrinking Lover."

Almodovar has assembled a remarkable cast in the guileless Javier Camara, the intense Dario Grandinetti, solemn Rosario Flores, stunning Leonor Watling, and a host of bit players that make even the smallest parts memorable. Both female leads are physically striking. Flores sports dark features, an elongated head and a masculine face, but her body is muscularly feminine and svelte.When Lydia prepares for a bullfight, Flores’ wild mane of black hair is pulled back taut to reveal her piercing eyes.Her aggressiveness is contrasted with Watling’s passivity. Watling has a light, immaculate complexion, her perfect body resembles a voluptuous marble sculpture, her skin runs buttermilk smooth.Almodovar gives both women a fetishized scene of dressing. For Flores, it is the elaborate, colorful, and stylishly elegant costume of a bullfighter, for Watling, a simple off-white hospital gown.

Watling displays some degree of nudity in nearly half her scenes. Its embarrassing repetitiveness engenders the uncomfortable feeling that Almodovar is exploiting her–that is, until one realizes that this is precisely what the story calls for. It is not Almodovar doing the exploiting but Benigno. Benigno, a 30-year old virgin, is an earnest, likable underdog on the surface but creepily unsettled underneath.That ambivalence plays out in the way Almodovar has Benigno use Alica.Watling is one of the most beautiful actresses in the world and the opportunities for voyeurism provide equal parts excitement and guilt, the latter exacerbated by Alicia’s comatose state that emphasizes her vulnerability.

Almodovar plays with numerous themes, from Benigno’s sexual orientation to the need for love (real or imagined) to the contrast between Marco’s realist philosophy and Benigno’s romantic one. All weave together seamlessly like the polyphony in a great symphony. Almodovar has frequently been underrated as a technical filmmaker. In Talk to Her, the camera moves with an effortless fluidity that reflects the characters’ interior states while conveying maximum narrative information.Almodovar freely complicates the framing by momentarily juxtaposing foreground objects as the camera glides through various spaces. Alberto Iglesias’s music sounds like a variation of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and is very effective. A cameo by Caetano Veloso singing the sublime “Cucurrucuc� paloma” is powerfully moving and one of the film’s highlights. Almodovar’s delectable choice of music, the roving camera, and his eye for detail give the movie a supremely graceful feel. Talk to Her shares composer Iglesias and actors Javier Camara, Elena Anaya and Paz Vega with another Spanish film released earlier this year, Sex and Lucia. Together, the two movies have cornered the market on sensuality in recent cinema.

George Wu

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