Talk to Her (Hable con ella)
Director : Pedro Almodóvar
Screenplay : Pedro Almodóvar
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Javier Cámara (Benigno), Darío Grandinetti (Marco Zuloaga), Leonor Watling (Alicia), Rosario Flores (Lydia), Geraldine Chaplin (Katerina Bilova), Mariola Fuentes (Rosa), Roberto Álvarez (Doctor), Adolfo Fernández (Niño de Valencia), Fele Martínez (Alfredo)
For more than a decade, Spanish writer/director Pedro Almodóvar has specialized in making the bizarre poignant, and in Talk to Her (Hable con ella), he has developed his most richly satisfying and deeply felt work without sacrificing the unique edge that makes it impossible not to talk about his films afterwards. Romance in the cinema is all too often routine, predictable; Almodóvar’s visions of love and affection are anything but, which makes them feel so true, even when they strain the boundaries of credulity.
Talk to Her concerns two men, both of whom love and care for women who cannot love them back because they are in comas. For four years, Benigno (Javier Cámara), a naïve, childlike male nurse, has dedicated virtually every waking moment of his life to caring for Alicia (Leonor Watling), a beautiful ballerina whom he admired from afar until a car wreck put her in a coma. Flashbacks show us a shy man deeply in love with a woman clearly out of his league, unable to demonstrate his affection. We sympathize with Benigno because we realize that he means no harm, while at the same time we acknowledge that some of his actions are genuinely creepy.
At the hospital where he works, Benigno meets Marco Zuloaga (Darío Grandinetti), a journalist and travel writer who was just getting to know a famous female matador named Lydia (Rosario Flores) when she was gored by a bull and put into a coma. Marco doesn’t know how to deal with this tragic turn of events until Benigno simply tells him “Talk to her,” and he finds that, in caring for Lydia’s comatose body—which does everything on its own except awaken—he gets to know her in a way he didn’t in life. Like Benigno, he engages in a form of selfless love—truly unrequited affection—in caring for Lydia, who cannot know all that he does for her. Yet, as some have noted, there is also something deeply selfish about these men’s actions, as it is only they who derive any waking pleasure from what they do. The sleeping women will sleep regardless, and if they never wake up, they will never know what has been done for them.
One of the pleasures of Almodóvar’s films is the impossibility of seeing from the beginning where they will go in the end. Talk to Her takes a serious turn in the last third, as one of the characters commits an act that, on the face of it is, is both deeply immoral and illegal, but was clearly done out of love. This plot turn is in keeping with Almodóvar’s sensibility, which often skews the world just enough so that actions that would seem intractably right or wrong are suddenly cast in a new light. Remember that the most touching moment in his darkly comic Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) was a woman asking her male captor to tie her to a bed lest she be tempted to escape.
In many ways, Talk to Her is Almodóvar at his most restrained and least controversial. There is an undeniable sweetness to the film’s outlook on its characters, particularly the slightly doughy Benigno, who is played to perfection by Javier Cámara. Benigno is so full of hope and good intentions and Almodóvar so successfully aligns us with his worldview, that even when he makes the “wrong choice,” it is difficult not to sympathize with him. He does what he does for his own reasons, which is to love, not to harm, and you almost get the sense that it is the world’s fault for not seeing things his way. Love has its own logic, and by following it Benigno finds himself on the wrong side of the law, which has a conflicting logic.
Emotionally moving as it is, Talk to Her is also quite funny at times, delving into moments of incisive black humor that are also one of Almodóvar’s trademarks. In particular, there is a scene in which Benigno recounts to Alicia a silent film he saw that also doubles as a fantasy sequence for complete male immersion into the object of his affection. This black-and-white sequence borders on the surreal and the hilariously lewd, but its thematic relevance is impossible to deny.
Talk to Her is also an exceeding beautiful film, shot by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, whose last film was Alejandro Amenàbar’s strikingly visual horror film The Others (2001). Almodóvar’s films tend to be replete with color, and this one is no different. He finds visual beauty in everything from the opening sequence’s depiction of German choreographer Pina Bausch’s dance piece Café Mueller, to Lydia’s bullfighting, to the bathing and caring for the sleeping female bodies that are so central to the film’s vision of romance. This is a singular film, one that captures everything about Almodóvar’s career to this point, but also transcends it through the simple beauty of its idealism, even when told in terms that may make some uncomfortable.
Copyright © 2003 James Kendrick