Hidden Gems: Talk to Her
By Kyle Lee
August 22, 2017
Life. There is so much LIFE in this movie. Pedro Almodovar’s 2002 capital-M Masterpiece Talk to Her is the kind of movie that reminds us how perfunctory and utilitarian most movie characters are. They say things only that advance the plot or maybe because they sound cool, but those characters aren't real. They don’t say or do things that matter or affect us. They don't exist even in our imaginations. They exist on screen and then disappear immediately once the credits roll. Their actions are, ultimately, boring and inconsequential. And if it is full of characters you don’t care about, a movie isn’t going to work as a whole either. This movie makes other movies look bad, because this movie is filled to the brim with the energy of life. There is a plot, sure. There's also high drama, sensuality, pain, love, beauty, and romance, plus dick and poop jokes.
Marco (Dario Grandinetti) is a journalist who comes across the famous bullfighter Lydia González (Rosario Flores) and decides to write a piece on her. They meet, become friends, and then lovers. But one day, Lydia is gored by a bull and goes into a coma. She is transferred to a care facility and Marco visits her often. While at the hospital, he meets Benigno (Javier Camara), a kindly male nurse who is exclusively taking care of Alicia (Leonor Watling), a ballet dancer who is in a coma as well. Benigno jabbers away to Alicia as though she were alive and engaging in the conversation. He pours his heart out to her, loves her, and is devoted to her care. Marco and Lydia are just a few months into a relationship, both coming off of previous long term loves, and his relating to the newly comatose Lydia is difficult for him.
These four people are wonderfully drawn contrasts of each other. Alicia is a ballet dancer, Lydia a bullfighter. They’re both strong, athletic, emotional. But where Alicia is delicate and elegant, Lydia is bold and brash. Alicia is the embodiment of one of the most feminine images in the world, a ballerina. Lydia is strong, confident, and successful in the very manly world of bullfighting. Benigno, even outside of being a man in the predominantly female world of nursing, is caring, loving, also a bit doughy and possibly gay. Marco is more world weary, masculine in look, and seems cynical. But we’ve also seen him cry multiple times and know that there’s a wealth of emotion in there if he could just let it out.
Benigno is a perfect caretaker of Alicia. Marco is unsure of what to do when he visits. But the men bond over the care of the women (yet another gender role switch by Almodovar), which mostly consists of Benigno trying to get Marco to do more than just physically show up. That's where the title comes from, as Benigno tries to get Marco to further his connection with Lydia, even if she can't respond to him. I won't go into what happens plot wise beyond this point, but it was unexpected yet never hit a false note. I will add, though, that this has the greatest movie-within-a-movie in the history of cinema - a sexy laugh riot of ridiculousness that takes on much greater significance when you realize what it may mean, and how it may be paralleling what is happening when the movie is being recounted from one character to another.
Pedro Almodovar has always been known for his bold colors, and even bolder choices in characters and themes (pregnant nuns, transsexuals, junkies, kidnappers, multiple NC-17 rated movies). He has also been accused of being melodramatic and not caring about his characters, or not creating characters that feel real. His early movies like 1990’s Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down put both him and star Antonio Banderas on the international movie map, but it wasn’t until his astounding 1999 movie All About My Mother, which won him a Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars, that he really stepped up into his full potential. He far surpassed it with Talk to Her, his follow-up film.
When I first saw it, this was the third movie I'd seen from Almodovar, and while I liked the previous two a lot (2006's Volver and 2009's Broken Embraces, both starring Penelope Cruz) this one is truly, deeply special. Made in 2002 after the international success of All About my Mother, Almodovar won another Oscar for Talk to Her, this one for Best Original Screenplay, and he thoroughly deserved it. As I said in the intro, he’s written so much life into this movie. It’s not just the terrific acting and extreme story circumstances that make this world seem so full. It's sharply drawn in its writing - funny, moving, unexpected in both dialog and story structure. Add onto that Almodovar's impeccable camera movement and framing, his genius unfolding of the story, his famous boldly colored cinematography, and especially the perfect performances he elicits from his actors. It’s all deeply moving and extraordinary at every level. Many consider this Almodovar's high point and I'll not only agree, but say that this is the best Spanish language movie I’ve ever seen.
Sadly, foreign language movies aren’t always the easiest sell to American audiences. But Talk to Her is funny, I laughed out loud many times. If you watch him in interviews, Almodovar himself is very funny, in English or Spanish. Most of all, I think, this movie is empathetic. We come to know these people, care about them, want them to succeed and also to connect with each other the way we’ve connected in the audience. It’s a gorgeous movie to look at, and when the plot thickens, as plots do, you realize how much you’ve come to care for these characters in ways that are unusual for even the best works of art. I really can’t recommend it enough. I love love love this movie.