Almost operatic in its execution, Talk to Her packs quite a wallop. By depicting how two men deal with the women they love, who are both in a coma, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar delivers a movie overflowing with emotional riches. Stunning performances by a superb cast add to the film’s overall impact. But Javier Camara, as a nurse who carries on one-way conversations with his comatose patient, walks away with the movie’s highest honors from me.
Camara plays Benigno, a man used to taking care of women, with such dramatic confidence! Displaying a knowing smile that hides his character’s intense feelings, Camara reminded me of the spellbinding Sergi Lopez in With a Friend Like Harry. After Benigno’s mother celebrated turning 40 by never leaving her bed again, he had to wait on her day and night. Like a good son, Benigno even took nursing classes to help him do a better job of caring for her. Later, when he’s hired as a nurse for Alicia (Leonor Watling), a ballet student in a coma as the result of an auto accident, it fills him with joy – for he once admired this beautiful young woman from afar.
Benigno meets writer Marco (Dario Grandinetti) and tries to help him cope with sadness after his loved-one also slips into a coma. Lydia (Rosario Flores), a daring bullfighter, is gored by a bull and admitted to the clinic where Benigno works. The two men develop an unusual friendship, one that faces monumental challenges because of Benigno’s passion for Alicia.
As in a well-staged opera, the film’s elements of romance, tragedy, music, ballet, and sensuality come together with impressive artistry. I’m still haunted not only by the movie’s provocative theme but also by Caetano Veloso’s pure, melodic rendition of “Cucurrucuci paloma,” the rythmic Cabo Verde mazurca, and Pina Bausch’s enthralling choreography.
My only complaint about this memorable film involves a lengthy “Shrinking Lover” sequence inserted about half way through the movie. While Benigno describes a black-and-white silent flick to Alicia, the actual film he saw appears on screen. I admit it’s very creative, but I also found it distracting and much too graphic. Director Almodovar (All About My Mother) explains, “The decision that it should be silent and in black and white is due to the fact that this is the last genre discovered by Alicia before her accident. An interest which Benigno inherits from her.” Still, it didn’t work for me.
Loneliness and longing loom over Talk to Her like dark clouds circling the sun. “Loneliness is something which all the characters in the film have in common,” says Almodovar. “Even the bull is left alone in the huge ring when Lydia is taken to the infirmary…Loneliness, I guess, is another possible title for this film.”
Despite dwelling on such gloom and doom, Talk to Her ends on a hopeful note. Almodovar reaffirms his faith here in the power of words as weapons against loneliness. “I’ve always believed in words,” he says. Talk to Her demonstrates that even monologues before a silent person can be an effective form of dialogue and communication. But, more important to me, this film represents cinematic storytelling at its best.
-Betty Jo Tucker