Talk to Her (2002)

Directed by Pedro Almodovar

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How do you recommend this movie to someone without putting them off to it completely?  It’s the story of a friendship between men who give themselves almost entirely to the women they love, who both happen to be comatose.  In the case of one of them his loyalty to a woman who doesn’t even know he’s there evolves into a strange kind of passion.

It’s a remarkably tender film, which perhaps shouldn’t be such a surprise.  Pedro Almodovar’s films combine melodrama with deep pathos.  They are absurd, wild, at times hilarious, unabashedly sincere and ultimately quite moving.  Through the prisms of these broad characters and their unlikely storylines he conveys deep, universal emotion.

In the case of Talk to Her it’s something of a romance between two me, but even referring to it as a romance feels limiting.  It’s just a relationship film between two people experiencing some degree of loss and isolation, and that he manages to guide the emotional plane to the runway is all the more bewildering considering the subject material and specific plot points.

It can be an uncomfortable movie at times, and you may wince as we approach certain moments and character decisions.

They are a writer and a nurse, who cross paths at first during a play which brings the writer to tears.  Later they meet again when a bullfighter with whom the writer has become acquainted is gorged during a particular match and ends up in a coma.  There works the male nurse who is eager to befriend the writer, seemingly drawn to his emotional display during their first encounter.

Maybe it’s just that both characters are so free to show their emotion, maybe that’s what demands your empathy.  They are immensely vulnerable, and even when things get a little ugly, well it’s all just kind of murky.

The story is told with a handful of flashbacks, showing various relationships between two people, and how we got to this point.  It re-contextualizes the nurse and his affinity for Alicia, the comatose woman he’s been caring for.  We learn that he lived across from the dance studio at which she took classes, and after growing infatuated with her he figured out that she lived with her father, a psychiatrist who conducted appointments at home.  Soon enough he signs up for a few appointments just so he can get a glimpse of her.

That he should end up as her most prominent caregiver is unlikely, but like with so many things in Almodovar’s films you just roll with it.  His films are so sincere, so unquestioning of various character decisions and circumstances that neither do you question it.

It’s hard to say why a film like this works, assuming you agree that it does.  Maybe it’s just that it feels like he’s paying attention, both to the characters and their inner lives.  No matter how unrestrained the plot can become, no matter how stylistic and dramatic the image and sound, it feels as though he’s nevertheless recording someone’s heartbeat, true and clear.  All the vibrancy, the score, the leaps forward and backward in time, no matter how much he plays around and separates what you see onscreen from the mundanity of every day life, it still charts the vital signs of his characters, as if you are right there looking at the world through their eyes.

And I suppose that’s what melodrama is, heightening every sway of emotion to reflect what the protagonist feels.  You certainly don’t have to agree with the characters, maybe you object to the premise itself, and it’s hard to argue on that front, but I still think the film works emotionally.  It almost challenges you with painful information just to prove the film can still mold you as a viewer into seeing what Almodovar wants you to see.

Up Next: Volver (2006), Lone Survivor (2013), Jerichow (2008)

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