Thursday, February 09, 2006

Talk to Her (2002)



Dir. Pedro Almodóvar
Writ. José Salcedo
w/ Javier Cámara, Dario Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, Rosario Flores, Geraldine Chaplin

Almodóvar's exploration of the human capacity for solitude confronts the sovereignty of societal norms over human emotion and spiritual ideals. Using the ancient paradigm of two separate couples inextricably linked by fate and circumstance, he delves into forbidden territory with the ease of a schoolboy dipping cookies in milk. Treating taboos with mature rationality seems to be this director's indigenous talent. He's mastered the knack so fluidly that the villain in this scandalous montage is virtually untrackable. The beauracracy might be winkable, but even they won't incite hate. They're just people, just doing their jobs.
Love, loneliness, and calm acceptance of circumstance in a cruel world of accidents and elusive truth form a backdrop in which the artist skillfully uses the winding nuance of theatre and dance to represent the steady advance of time. Benigno and Marco view the opening act, in which two women feel their way across a stage blindly and a man shows up unexpectedly to remove a table and chairs so that they don't hurt themselves. That night, Benigno tells his lady love, a comatose dancer named Alicia, all about the play and the man who sat next to him and wept. Alicia listens intently, with a smile on her face. She's been in a coma for four years, but Benigno knows she hears him. Marco, in the meantime, espies the bullfighter Lydia on a talk show in which the hostess acts as the woman's inner, desperate voice.
Intrigued by this woman in a profession set aside for males, Marco sets out to meet her and interview her for a magazine story; he ends up, however, driving her to Madrid and killing a snake in her kitchen. Before their romance can really ignite, a bull gores Lydia so badly she slips into a coma and joins Alicia at the care facility where Benigno has been looking after exclusively. And so, the two men are drawn back together again, bit by bit, Benigno's secret passion for his beautiful, sleeping ward reveals itself.

In a rare visual treat, Almodóvar uses a silent film motif involving a shrunken man saved from his cruel mother by his true love. Overjoyed, the man climbs back into the womb of his lover and stays there forever. This style is so deft, so clean. When Alicia turns out to be pregnant, Benigno is confined for the rape; but, of course, Benigno loves her, wants to marry her, and would do nothing to hurt her. If only she would wake up.
What a rich tapestry Almodóvar weaves. Especially recognized for his use of shock value, he does not shy away from the rustier workings of the frail human psyche. He portrays his characters with warmth, brandishing his wit through sharp dialogue and a tender but firm application of an astounding visual vocabulary.

[1] Geraldine Chaplin, in a surprise performance for those of us that have been landlocked too long. I wish we'd see more of this, like when Jodie Foster turned up in A Very Long Engagment.

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