Talk to Her
In the opening scene of Pedro Almodóvar’s latest masterpiece, Talk to Her, a woman careens like a sleepwalker across a theater stage cluttered with chairs while a man devoted to anticipating her needs rushes to clear obstacles from her path. The two are dancers, members of Pina Bausch’s avant-garde German troupe in a performance of Bausch’s piece ”Café Müller,” and among those watching in the rapt, on-screen audience are two men who don’t yet know how intimately they are about to be bound together. While Marco (Darío Grandinetti), a journalist, weeps silently in the dark from emotion stirred by the production, Benigno (Javier Cámara), a nurse, is moved by the sight of the stranger’s private tears.
The men reconnect soon enough. ”Feminine” Benigno — warm, chatty, soft, a homebody — is devoted beyond professional duty to Alicia (Leonor Watling), a beautiful, young dancer in a long coma as the result of a car accident. ”Masculine” Marco — raspy, guarded, restless, a wanderer — arrives at the same clinic to keep vigil over his lover, Lydia (Rosario Flores), a bullfighter in a coma as the result of a goring. The film takes its title from Benigno’s advice to Marco — the stranger he recognizes from the theater, the man who cries — about how to communicate, even with comatose women. Connection, he demonstrates, is a matter of much more than a spoken dialogue. In fact, the profoundest response may defy language.
”Talk to Her” is about interwoven varieties of intimacy — filial, romantic, erotic, professional, tutorial — and the many ways to express love. (Following the glories of his 1999 Oscar winner, ”All About My Mother,” the director known as a specialist in actress-heavy dramas reveals a compassionate understanding of the camaraderie of men.) But as with all of Almodóvar’s most exciting work, ”Talk to Her” is also about intimacy with movies as the filmmaker’s deepest source of inspiration and replenishment. Spellbound by the cinema’s unique abilities to loop and layer narrative and to convey feelings with color, light, movement, time-shifting, and even silence, the director uses those materials here with exuberant adoration and maturity. Pleasure deepens with subsequent viewings.
The performances, especially by Spanish actor Cámara as the instinctively generous Benigno — a very human man aware of his own loneliness — are so lived-in as to feel inevitable; Geraldine Chaplin is vibrant as Alicia’s ballet teacher, protective of her comatose favorite student. The movie is (as always, with Almódovar) visually gorgeous, and daring, too. In one breathtaking sequence, the master Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso enchants the on-screen and movie-theater audience with a simple song. In another, Almodóvar sends Benigno himself to the movies to watch a black-and-white silent movie called ”Shrinking Lover.”
Like everything else in this superb work of art, ”Shrinking Lover” is exquisitely Almodóvarian. It’s funny, tender, a little shocking, and it pays homage to what we know about movies: that they can move us beyond words.