Cinema Signal:

A Spanish Labyrinth: The Films of Pedro Almodovar

. "Talk To Her"

What we expect from a Pedro Almodovar movie is sex, humor, sex, social situations, social commentary, and sex. Each of these elements go into his unique style of integrating them into considerable entertainment. But, in "Talk To Her" he sets a different tone, a darker, more serious one.

What do you do if you're a caregiver for a woman in a coma? Talk to her. And male nurse Benigno (Javier Camara) does that and a whole lot more. Repressed obsessions flourish in him as he imagines a vibrant relationship with the comatose Alicia (Madrid-born Leonor Watling), a dance student nearly killed in a car accident. Feeding Benigno's fantasies are the fact that she's uncommonly beautiful, and that he's had a fixation on her for a while. Alicia's ballet school, run by Katerina Bilova (Geraldine Chaplin), is within view of his window, a place where he spent much of his free time before the accident, watching the determined ballerina train and rehearse.

In a second story line, Lydia (Rosario Flores), an angular Spanish beauty and professional bullfighter, is in the throes of breaking up with her longtime boyfriend, a fellow bullfighter of the male variety. Attending an avant garde play, Marco Zuloaga (Dar¡o Grandinetti), a writer of travel brochures, recognizes the famous Lydia when he sees her in the audience. But not before he makes an impression on her, as well, when she notices that a scene on stage has brought him to tears.

Marco decides he'd like to do a piece on Lydia and her career, gets the go ahead from his magazine, broaches her about it at a time when she's in need of a ride home, but receives a cold reaction when she disagrees with what he wants to emphasize in his writing. But the coldness is thawed when he kills a snake in the her kitchen, proving himself courageous and thoughtful. Protecting a gal from her phobias is about as good a way to start a relationship as there is, and it ensues.

When Lydia is gored by a bull she is brought to the same hospital in which Benigno is tending to the still comatose Alicia. This will bring our two male leads into a friendship, which will be sorely tested by Benigno's actions. As Marco deals with that he must also deal with Lydia's boyfriend showing up and replacing him in the attendance over her recovery. Marco has much to deal with and must call upon a great depth of character to do so. He is up to it and, in the outcome, is richly rewarded.

Fact is, it's not only mostly his story, calling upon us to anchor to Grandinetti, but it's a pleasure to be in the company of this actor. He has a quality that widens the scope of what we call sympathetic in his stable way of dealing with the more volatile actions of those he meets and loves as well as his share of injustices.

Which is not to take away from the importance of Camara's skills in portraying the behaviors of a compulsive obsessive personality entrusted with the life of a vulnerable human being. He duly convinces us of his ability to use other people's idea of propriety to erect the illusion of it and mask his real motives and actions.

Geraldine Chaplin pours what she has into her role of the ballet mistress and the two hospitalized beauties (Watling and Flores) fulfill all requirements of dealing with truncated careers and destinies.

Writer-director Almodovar, in this departure from his own norm, deals here with the dark and depressing subject of being crippled in one way or another, with the absolute termination of career and self imagined destiny through accident, with total vulnerability and the betrayal of trust. The only sign of his more farcical treatments and sexuality of the past is contained in one scene, a fantasy involving a man's miniaturization and his very explicit ventures into Almodovar's concept of ultimate conquest. (A little too explicit to describe further, but you'll know it when you see it. Let's say it bears a resemblance to the bathing scene with sailboat in "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown").

There is no nervous breakdown here, but there are women on the verge of new lives and, perhaps, Almodovar on the verge of a new story-telling style. But, all is not perfect when the plot and the author's intentions are packaged so structurally. He has previously masked his social messages behind playful sex and humor but, with so relatively little of each, what comes through is more a hammer blow than a whisper of seriousness.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Javier Camara as Benigno in "Talk To Her"

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