Whilst Pedro Almodóvar may inevitably be remembered and revered for his work on his previous film, All About My Mother, his 2002 internationally-acclaimed film Talk To Her – a tale of two men dealing with the harsh reality that they are inevitably helpless as they must simply bare witness to their loved ones being reduced to a comatose state after suffering from horrific accidents – presents itself as an important pitstop along the way into the filmography of the great Spanish director.
The curtain opens on a live dance performance in which two blind women seem to be without senses as they crash into walls and require the assistance of a third individual in order to avoid stumbling into obstacles. However, we are not the sole spectators of this performance. Indeed, at the front row we can distinguish two gentlemen who appear entranced when faced with said artistic beauty. On the left sits Benigno (Javier Cámara), a quirky thirty-something year old who has recently lost his mother and the woman he has loved from afar Alicia (Leonor Watling) has suffered a near-fatal car accident which has left her in a coma for the last four years. To his side sits Marco (Dario Grandinetti), a journalist whose recent subject turned lover Lydia (Rosario Flores) has suffered a bullfighting accident leaving her in a similar state to Alicia. However, both men react differently to the performance. Marco cries uncontrollably faced with the women’s perceived inabilities, whereas Benigno seems at peace with it. Their reactions to the performance contrast their reactions to having their loved ones in comatose-states.
Whereas Almodóvar is often heralded as a great director of women in a similar way to Lars Von Trier (whatever one even means by such a title), it is the male protagonists and their relationship which get the opportunity to truly shine in Talk To Her. Both men are faced with the harsh reality that they are powerless against their loved-ones fate and must stick together and learn from one another, eventually developing a powerful friendship, in order to overcome their inner-commotions. The peculiar scenario which they are confronted with allows the director to explore and portray a feminine side and quality to both Benigno and Marco: the former feels comfortable taking care of Alicia by massaging and moisturising her when needed, whilst Marco must learn to do the same as instructed by Benigno. However, Marco displays his feminine side openly from the very first scene by opting to publicly cry whenever he is faced with an act of beauty as he is faced with the fact that he cannot share said experience with the woman he loves.
The issue of inter-relationship communication emerges on several occasion throughout the film, whether it be Benigno’s failure to conduct himself in an appropriate manner when meeting Alicia, or Marco’s inability to talk to Lydia about his past and the reasons behind his chronic tear-shedding episodes. However, through their new reality that they must face, they quickly understand their mistakes and attempt to communicate with their loved ones, although it may already be too late. Through the film’s title, Pedro Almodóvar ponders the question of whether or not both women are in fact dead or alive in their current states which require around-the-clock life-support. Can Alice and Lydia hear and feel their carers’ devotion or are they merely empty carcasses still somehow capable of the most effortless human features such as breathing, occasionally opening their eyes, and having their periods (or not).
Perhaps the most memorable – perhaps even provocative – scene in Talk To Her occurs when Benigno discusses the silent film he had seen the night before, to Alicia. As he recounts the events in the film, we as the audience are visually presented with the film in question as Almodóvar is capable of creating a silent black and white burlesque film which will not leave fans of early cinema indifferent. The film within the film, entitled The Shrinking Lover, tells the tale of a scientist who prematurely drinks his new discovery – a shrinking potion. As a consequence, he decides to leave his wife out of shame and return home to hide from the world. However, his lover eventually tracks him down as the film ends with a scene of peculiar eroticism as the shrunken scientist opts for full-body penetration into his lover’s vagina, eventually deciding to remain there forever. This sequence is set to provide the audience with Benigno’s reasoning behind his later actions of devotion towards Alicia which may leave the audience in a state of horror. Can, and should, Benigno’s devotion forgive his later wrongdoings? That is up to interpretation …
This taboo sequence allows Pedro Almodóvar‘s skills as both a great director and screenwriter to shine as he is capable of flirting with the line of crass and vulgar without ever stepping out of bounds. In this sense, it is no surprise that the Spanish director received critical praise for his work on Talk To Her which resulting in him being awarded an Academy Award, as well as a BAFTA, in honour of his terrific original script. Talk To Her is certainly an importance piece of filmmaking presenting interesting questions of moral philosophy which make it a vital step to take on the path of Almodóvar‘s body of work, undoubtedly qualifying him as one of the most thought-provoking directors of the twenty-first century.