Video Vault: Talk To Her

Talk To Her
2002 – Pedro Almodovar
Rated R : 105 mins.
Vault Rating: 8

Benigno (L) and Marco ® befriend each other while caring for their injured girlfriends in today’s Video Vault feature: “Talk to Her.”

Here’s a compelling and original love story set mostly in a head trauma ward.

I told you it was original. Once again writer / director Pedro Almodovar is examining gender issues, this time in a way that allows the audience to focus on masculine aspects of love by putting the leading women in comas.

We are introduced to Benigno (Javier Camara), who first sees Alicia (Leonor Watling) in a dance studio across from his apartment. We are immediately wary of him despite his benign sounding name because he appears voyeuristic and a little obsessed. But what is love if not an obsession? When Alicia is hospitalized in a ward where he is a nurse, we wonder whether or not his rapt attention to her needs is wholesome.

In the film’s other love story, we meet a writer, Marco (Dario Grandinetti), who is so sensitive to the fine arts as to weep at a play or a modern dance recital. He wants to do a story on a famed female toreador, Lydia (Rosario Flores). The professional interest naturally matures and is interrupted when Lydia is also injured and hospitalized in the room next to Alicia.

There seems to be evident an inversion of sexual roles here. Benigno is a loving and tender nurse to his immobile dancer. Lydia is clearly the more masculine in her relationship with Marco. What line of work is more masculine than bull fighting, after all.

These men meet in the halls of the hospital. A doctor has explained to Marco early on about a miraculous recovery in a famous case where a woman awoke after years, even while he also informs him that there is no hope, really. As Marco finds his way in this nether-world of love and caregiving, he provides the intimate view of Benigno that the audience needs to fill the story with tension.

Benigno, we see, has the habit of talking to Alicia as though she is present and can appreciate the dialogue. He says that her condition – like that of all women – is a mystery and Benigno believes his extraordinary care, down to a new hair style that Alicia would certainly like, could be curative. She is there, he tells Marco. Talk to her.

The women exist in this in-between world of coma and it is as if the men in their lives are but whispers, reduced to an echo in an unreachable part of their minds. This is illustrated in the cleverest of ways in a film inside the film called “The Shrinking Man.” In it, a woman is in a relationship with an ever shrinking man until he is small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. It is one of the more fantastic love scenes in cinema history.

The film features dance performances at the beginning and end that are somehow de scri ptive of the story. They help establish characters and then provide a sort of resting point or resolution for them in a figurative way, like film haiku. The film fits neatly into Almodovar’s recent cannon, too, considering 2004’s gender-bending “Bad Education” and the magnificent “Volver” in 2006, all of which are well worth your while.

In the end, though, today’s feature comes down to an original question. Can the women be saved? Do miracles happen? What does true love look like and what are its consequences? Is Benigno obsessed, as many lovers are? Or is he the best of men? See for yourself.

Until next time. Enjoy!

The beautiful Alicia (blue) and Lydia (red) from Almodovar’s 2002 Oscar winner, “Talk to Her.”

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