Criterion Prediction #74: Talk to Her, by Alexander Miller
Title: Talk to Her
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Javier Cámara, Leonor Watling Darío Grandinetti, Rosario Flores, Geraldine Chaplin
Synopsis: Marcos is a traveling journalist who meets Lydia Gonzalez, a celebrity female matador who’s reduced to a comatose state after her she’s injured in a bullfight. While standing vigil by Lydia’s side, Marco meets another man who’s also enamored with a comatose woman, an orderly named Benigno whose unhealthy fixation on Alicia spurns an unlikely friendship with Marco and raises cautionary attention with his co-workers.
Critique: For years, I was in the minority of people who weren’t over the moon about Almodovar’s revered 2002 film. Being a fan of the director it’s easy to understand why Talk to Her is frequently cited as one of the director’s best work, revisiting the film after an extended period I saw more layers with Almodovar’s trademark penchant for passion and moral complexities. My collective impression of the movie has improved. Talk to Her is an intriguing melodrama with an artful touch, hallmarks of a revered filmmaker who works with an instinctual vigor. However, the films problematic aspects still cast a shadow over this well-crafted account.
Memories roll through the collective consciousness of the characters and, in Almodovar’s cinema, the audience is both participant and observer. Narrative shifts when it suits the story and time moves just as freely, the stylistic confection of scrolling title cards are comical and indicative of the indefinite nature of time.
When the growth of Marco’s and Lydia’s relationship is communicated to us with “Several Months Later,” it’s more or less saying, “However Long it Takes a Relationship to Become Meaningful.” Almodovar operates on his own frequencies, and evidently this dictates his narrative momentum; small moments have resounding power and emotional revelations are played and underplayed, he gives each moment special consideration because he’s building a story that he finds deep-seated and absolute. Love and passion are the overarching certainties throughout, and Talk to Her explores material both melodramatic and divisively sensational territories.
With Marco and Benigno, it feels like we’re confronting both the potential justification of obsession and the exploration of love. Marco seems internally broken, enduring the hardship of a departed lover he cries over the beauty he can’t share with his dead ex;
Marco’s pain is quelled by his relationship with Lydia. However, their love is later disarmed from an alleged confession recalled by Lydia’s ex-lover; when he relinquishes his connection to Lydia another type of relationship is forged with Marco and Benigno. The overture to their bond stems from Marco being under the tutelage of Benigno sharing the finer points of “comance,” leading to some revelatory comments regarding love and his deep-rooted commitment to women. These pontifications go by the wayside once we learn that he’s responsible for raping Alicia.
Benigno is realized as an infantile asexual; aside from the frontline controversy, his character is something of a conundrum. His sexuality is often called into question, and if he’s intended as gay or bisexual isn’t it a tad offensive for this personage to fall into various stereotypes in connection to being a predator?
While I wouldn’t subscribe to any finalities regarding the outcome of the film’s characters or their actions, the notion of Benigno’s misguided intentions being a justification for rape is abhorrent and posing Marco and Benigno’s connection as the “truly” disabled figures feels like an obvious, even flat footed, symbolic juncture.
The conclusion provides much to mull over, the problematic less ambiguous and more like arrogant posturing as the message feels like an exercise in intellectual vanity.
Talk to Her is a commendably structured affair supplying an abundance of moral complexities that effectively secure one’s attention. The quality of the film is consistent with the director’s work, with superb performances from all involved – Talk to Her is an understandably championed work that I struggle with.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: Two of the director’s movies are in the collection (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! & Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). Talk to Her is one of the director’s most famous films, as well as streaming on Criterion’s Filmstruck streaming channel. As a curiosity I was wondering if there’s surviving footage of the silent film within a film The Shrinking Man; elaborating on that would be a fun bonus feature for a potential Criterion release.