Talk to Her (Spain, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Almodovar is back, following up his 1999 award-winning sensation All About My Mother with another success, the aptly-titled Talk to Her. Over the years, Almodovar (one of the few filmmakers who is recognized by only his surname) has been known for his daring forays into the weird and unexpected. However, in recent years, the director has shown great growth and maturity. The result has been triumphs like Live Flesh, All About My Mother, and now Talk to Her, which one could argue is his most accomplished feature to date. (Personally, I'd lean towards All About My Mother.)

Talk to Her uses the kind of offbeat premise we have come to expect from Almodovar, whose films all-but-guarantee an offbeat view of life, love, and relationships. This time, we have two men - nurse Benigno (Javier Camara) and journalist Marco (Dario Graninetti) - who spend a great deal of time in a private clinic, where the most important people in their lives are in comas. For Benigno, it's Alicia (Leonor Watling), a dancer he barely knew before she arrived at the clinic, but for whom he has unceasingly cared for years. Benigno is in love with her, and believes the feeling to be mutual. (At one point, speaking about the period during which he has nursed Alicia, he comments, "These last four years have been the richest of my life.") Meanwhile, Marco's girlfriend, Lydia (Rosario Flores), was a bullfighter before the fateful day when she was gored, trampled, and nearly killed. Now, she, like Alicia, lies in seeming repose, unlikely ever to awaken.

There are plenty of movies available about women talking to one another, but films that chronicle deep, meaningful conversations between men are a rarity. Talk to Her is one of these unusual films, with Benigno and Marco developing a powerful bond as a result of their common circumstances. They speak to their comatose women, but, with increasingly greater frequency, they begin to rely upon one another. There may be an element of homoeroticism here, at least on Benigno's part. He is a virgin and is unsure of his feelings. He is obsessed by Alicia (to a degree that her father finds unsettling), but there are times when his friendship with Marco seems unusually intense. Benigno is clearly a disturbed individual - he spent 20 years caring for a bedridden mother before switching his attention to Alicia. Some of the most telling scenes about him are the flashbacks, which show him spying upon the dancer from afar before working up the courage to approach her. Marco's past is less creepy, but has left deep emotional wounds.

The actors have the poise and ability to convey their characters. Javier Camara's portrayal offers an individual who is simultaneously naïve and unsettling. He's the kind of person we are naturally sympathetic towards, but are also wary of. Dario Grandinetti's Marco is more straightforward - a man who has been scarred but begins to re-discover himself through his relationships with Lydia and Benigno. Perhaps the most difficult acting job belongs to Leonor Watling, who is forced to spend much of the film in a coma (and often nude).

Almodovar gets all the details right, from Alicia's dancing to Lydia's bullfighting to Benigno's nursing. (I found the scenes depicting the care of the comatose patients to be especially revealing, since I had no idea how much effort is involved.) As is the director's trademark, he interweaves moments of humor (of a variety that occasionally borders on the absurd) into the dramatic tapestry. Talk to Her is a drama of great power, yet some members of the audience will leave the theater believing they have seen a comedy. Almodovar also manages to conclude the film on a hopeful note, and one that will have many audience members wishing that he will someday return to tell more about these characters. (In the press notes, Almodovar offers the following possibility: "Perhaps, at some other time, I'll tell [that] story... but first I'd have to write it.")

Talk to Her (Spain, 2002)

Ranked #5 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 2002
Run Time: 1:52
U.S. Release Date: 2002-11-22
MPAA Rating: "R" (Nudity, Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: Spanish with English subtitles
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1