Almodóvar’s Talk to Her offers a quasi-surrealist blend of tragicomic soap opera
Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay—and it certainly is original. Viewers who remember Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and All About My Mother will not be surprised to find Almodêvar mixing comedy and tragedy in his latest offbeat melodrama, but the new film has a special freshness to it that defies comfortable categorization.
And screenwriting honors notwithstanding, Talk to Her is not a conspicuously “literary” film. It begins and ends with dance performances in an avant-garde mode, and a pivot sequence in its mid-section is a consummately nutty silent-movie pastiche called “The Shrinking Lover.” Most of the time, however, it’s riffing on soap opera, remixed à la Almodêvar.
The remix in this case revolves around four variously outlandish characters—a male nurse, a comatose ballet dancer, a female matador and a travel writer given to weeping in public. Benigno the nurse and caregiver to Alicia the comatose dancer is devoted to the point of adoration. And Marco the writer and Lydia the bullfighter become lovers in unlikely circumstances.
After a bullring mishap lands Lydia in the facility were Benigno works, all four characters are becoming wildly entangled—with the prime result that a serendipitous, and increasingly profound, friendship begins to emerge between Benigno and Marco. But there are plenty of wild cards—a mysterious pregnancy, a rape, a suicide, a returning lover, and at least one “medical miracle"—to stir Almodêvar’s quasi-surrealist blend of tragicomic soap opera.
The early portions of the film may seem quirky to a fault, but once the Benigno-Marco friendship begins to take hold, much that seemed perplexing gathers together in a combination of surprisingly strong emotions and a visionary sort of tenderness. Marco is the reality principle pushed beyond the merely rational, and Benigno is the idiot saint whose loving impulses will land him in jail.
Dario Grandinetti (as Marco) and Javier Camara (as Benigno) give wonderful, deeply etched performances. Camara is especially fine as the focal point of Almodêvar’s radical blurring of conventional distinctions on sexuality, gender, communication, spirituality and art.