On stage, a visual lament. The curtain rises to reveal a barefoot woman with dark ragged hair and a thin white slip. The furrows in her face recall the hard years of a lingering life. She moves in accentuated forlorn gestures — arms and hair flailing — toward the wall as another white-slipped woman mirrors the movements of the first, slightly delayed.
In the audience, two men watch the dance. Although they sit together, Benigno (Javier Cámara) and Marco (Darío Grandinetti) have never met. The two have completely different reactions to what they’re experiencing, and Benigno looks at Marco’s tears with an innocent curiosity. Later, Benigno excitedly presents an autographed picture of one of the dancers to Alicia (Leonor Watling), but Alicia doesn’t thank her male nurse because she’s been in a coma for four years.
Unlike Benigno, Marco is attracted to desperate women — such as Lydia (Rosario Flores), a female matador turned a little reckless by her breakup with her matador boyfriend. Marco endears himself to her by killing a snake in her kitchen, and their romance takes flame, until tragedy imprisons Lydia in a voiceless horizontal limbo. But one man’s tragedy is another man’s miracle — and, as it stands, it’s up to Benigno and Marco to do the talking with the women they love.
The films of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar are a little bit all-over-the-place, from the tragicomic hyper-stylistic gazpacho success of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, to the bondage love twists of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, to the tiresome love-guilt-obsession triangle of Live Flesh, to the forlorn transvestite-riddled world of All About My Mother, just to name a few. Like life, his films feed on a need to satisfy cravings and desires, but life doesn’t always pulse with sexual archetypes and breath-quivering Latin rhythms the way Almodóvar’s latest effort does.
Talk to Her is a desolate dance of the senses that serenades and courts the death of bulls, the death of unseen snakes and the cooing of doves. Almodóvar shoots Lydia slaying bulls and Benigno physically attending to Alicia (bathing, massaging, etc.) as if they were seething romantic interludes, his lens drinking in and relishing every loving brush of fabric on skin or hide. The push and pull of the men’s psycho-emotional struggles are repeated and portrayed through the language of movement, metaphor and song, as if the unconscious energy emitted from them were creating every aspect of their realities.
On the surface, Benigno’s idea of a relationship is just to the left of necrophilia, but his naive, refreshing outlook on love contains the seed to Marco’s recovery. For both Marco and Benigno, the keys to themselves are tied into their women’s silence. With their lovers’ emotional baggage out of the way, both men’s relationships make an internal-external flip-flop: Without Alicia’s fears tied into Benigno’s advances, he’s able to speak freely to her and completely be himself without any chance of rejection. And not needing to protect Lydia from her hopes and fears, Marco no longer has anything to say to her. Through a relationship with a blank slate, Benigno is having the best years of his life. On the other hand, Marco searches for a way out of his perpetual emotional turmoil.
Almodóvar creates a film inside a film to help explicate Benigno’s state of mind. Benigno goes to see The Shrinking Lover, a silent film that’s both a comic relief and a great source of wonder as its tiny hero explores his lover’s body like a Dali-esque landscape, literally surrendering himself to back-to-the-womb urges in an oedipally twisted switching of loves. The silent film makes its point well, and hits too close to home for Benigno.
Talk to Her is a sad falsetto ballad, holding onto hope like a dove cupped in two gentle hands in the midst of blood-splattered bullhorns and slow death. With its choreography of symbolism and great compassion, it asks us, “How much different is a relationship to a lover from our relationships to ourselves?”
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday-Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].