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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review: Talk To Her (2002)

* * * *

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Javier Camera, Dario Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, Rosario Flores

Nothing is ever simple in a Pedro Almodovar film, especially love. In Talk To Her he shows us two men, both lonely, both in love with women they don’t really know, brought together by the tragedies that befall those women. It is a curious story of devotion and obsession, friendship and human connection, told in a way that only Almodovar could tell it.

The two men in question are Marco (Dario Grandinetti) and Benigno (Javier Camera). Marco is a writer involved with Lydia, a female bullfighter (Rosario Flores) and Benigno is a nurse dedicated to the care of Alicia (Leonor Watling), a comatose patient. Their first encounter is at the theatre, where Benigno takes notice of Marco because of his strong reaction to the stage performance. On stage a woman sleepwalks as a man continuously moves chairs out of her path and Marco weeps, perhaps because he himself is powerless to help the woman in his life.

The film flashes back to show how Marco became involved with Lydia, meeting her as she’s on the rebound from another relationship and then ridding her house of a snake. The relationship progresses from there but is doomed to fail because he lacks the ability to communicate with her. He spends a great deal of time talking but little time listening so that he doesn’t realize that she has reconnected with her ex-boyfriend until after she’s injured in the bullring. As Lydia lies in a coma, Marco learns the truth from the other man and is forced to sadly accept that he’s become even more irrelevant than he was already.

By this time he has become friends with Benigno, who attempts to help him connect with Lydia through the barrier presented by her coma. Just talk to her, Benigno suggests, though of course Marco telling Lydia about his thoughts and feelings was never the problem. Benigno communicates with his patient, Alicia, as though she is fully cognisant of everything he says and everything going on around her. He is in love with her and has been since before her accident when he would stand at the window of the apartment he shared with his mother, watching her in the dance studio across the street. His attempts to speak to her drove her away because he approached her in such an awkward way, but once she’s in a coma he can talk freely to her about anything and everything and convinces himself that by doing so they have developed a deep connection. The resolution to this relationship is morally ambiguous as Benigno finds himself compelled to violate the sanctity of her extreme vulnerability, but in doing so rescues her from that very state. What he does is inarguably wrong but good comes out of it which makes it difficult to see Benigno purely as a villain. It helps that he’s played by Camera, who brings an innocence to the role that makes the situation slightly less cut and dried.

The relationships portrayed in Talk To Her – both the “real” ones and the “fictional” ones – are ones where one partner has an extreme dependence on the other. Alicia depends totally on Benigno, Lydia depends on Marco to save her (although, ironically, she only depends on him until she has her accident), the woman in the play depends on the man to remove all obstacles from her path, and there is a film that Benigno sees in which a man shrinks and shrinks until finally disappearing into the woman that he loves so that he can be with her forever. The film within the film is one of the highlights of Talk To Her as Almodovar recreates the look and feel of silent movies – albeit with a very modern sexual explicitness – to tell the story of a man who loses himself completely inside a woman, a story which inspires Benigno’s act of devotion (what he would call “devotion,” at any rate).

The message of Talk To Her, that an equal amount of give and take is necessary for a healthy relationship, comes through loud and clear. As usual, Almodovar displays a remarkable control over his characters and their situation, never allowing the distinct originality of his vision to seem absurd or so divorced from reality that as an audience you can’t connect to it. His are intensely human dramas that cut straight to the heart of the matter and linger long after concluding.

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