Movie review by Greg Carlson
Aglow with the recent surprise Academy Award nomination for its masterful director Pedro Almodovar, “Talk to Her” finds itself immediately in the front rank of the Spanish filmmaker’s impressive list of credits. With “Talk to Her,” Almodovar has topped his excellent “All About My Mother” (1999) and perhaps drawn even with the film many consider to be his masterpiece, the audacious, irrepressible “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988). Assuming Almodovar is just getting warmed up – he is only in his early fifties – his many admirers must be salivating at the prospect that the next phase of his career might deliver yet another series of fantastic movies.
Almodovar’s films – which typically carom between slapstick and serenity with astonishing ease – often hinge on the kinds of coincidences beloved by soap operas, but the practically fearless director always manages to locate emotional complexity in the inhabitants of his colorful ensembles. Outrageous things are expected to happen to Almodovar’s characters, but throughout it all, these people remain hopelessly and gloriously human. Best of all, Almodovar consistently demonstrates a sublime level of comfort with even his most obsessive, wrong-headed, misguided, and forlorn characters, offering them empathy where most would find only contempt.
This is certainly the case with Benigno (Javier Camara), the troubling, sexually-ambiguous mama’s boy who attends the bedside of beautiful, comatose ballerina Alicia (Leonor Watling) with the kind of zeal and devotion one usually finds reserved for the Virgin Mary. Benigno, we come to learn, has fallen madly in love with Alicia after seeing her rehearse at the dance studio across the street from his apartment. Following the freak traffic accident that renders Alicia catatonically lifeless, Benigno uses his experience as a nurse to become Alicia’s primary caregiver in the hospital where her psychiatrist father assumes she will receive the best care.
Meanwhile, journalist and travel-guide writer Marco (Dario Grandinetti) begins a relationship with a female bullfighter on the rebound from a painful breakup with another toreador. Lydia (Rosario Flores) is as full of life and energy as Alicia is without, but by a perfectly Almodovarian twist, the torero ends up in a coma and is placed in the same hospital as Alicia. Benigno and Marco become friends, bonding over the bizarre circumstances in which they find themselves. Along with Almodovar, the audience begins to relish the remarkable irony that these two women are completely unaware of the affectionate dedication and concentrated commitment the two men lavish upon them.
Almodovar mirrors the ardor of Benigno and the perseverance of Marco with a jaw-dropping homage to silent film that depicts a kind of forerunner to “The Incredible Shrinking Man” by way of Ferdinand Zecca, Georges Melies, and J. Stuart Blackton. In the piece, a tiny lover demonstrates his complete faithfulness and fealty to the woman responsible for his altered state by doing something nearly unprintable (and certainly too fun to spoil here). Despite the wild inclusion of this fantasy diversion (the film also includes magnificent side-trips to take in Pina Bausch’s dance theatre and Caetano Veloso performing a song), “Talk to Her” is fairly tame by Almodovar standards. It is also one of the best films of the year.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 2/17/03.