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Spain’s 2002 masterpiece to be screened at DPAC

Brian Doxtader | Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Is there such a thing as a low-key melodrama? Perhaps only the films of Pedro Almodovar fall into such a seemingly oxymoronic classification. His pictures are at once both quietly subdued and stirringly emotional, which makes for a unique and engagingly affecting cinema.

2002’s “Hable Con Ella” (“Talk to Her”) may very well be his masterpiece – a strange, beautiful and often startling film that came off the heels of his internationally acclaimed “Todos Sobre Mi Madre” (“All About My Mother”). It will be screened this Thursday as part of the Nanovic Film Series.

The plot deals with two men, Marco (Dario Grandinetti), a journalist, and Benigno (Javier Camara), a male nurse, who meet when Marco’s matador lover Lydia (Rosario Flores) is mauled in a bullfighting accident. As Marco tries to deal with his comatose lover, Benigno reveals that he is also in love with one of a patients, a dancer whom he used to see practicing in the studio across from his apartment.

As the two men deal with their respective situations, they become friends who begin to share a mutual understanding and empathy that resonates throughout the picture.

What is most unique about “Talk to Her” is the way in which it avoids a particularly stereotypical essentialist metanarrative. Like all melodramas, it explores relationships, but here those relations are between men rather than women. Though women are a catalyst for the unfolding of the film’s plot, they spend most of the film in comas, which forces the men to interactive in strikingly sensitive ways.

Almodovar once said that if he had made John Ford’s “The Searchers” (1956) that John Wayne would have cried. Here, Marco cries in several key points throughout the film, bending his character archetype in surprising ways.

On some level, Marco begins to understand Benigno, who is nearly obsessed with his love for a comatose patient whom he has never spoken to.

As the depth of Benigno’s neurosis is slowly revealed, Marco is appropriately shocked, but is nevertheless sympathetic. His own lover’s gruesome fate allows him to respond in ways that might not be expected but seem completely appropriate.

If “Talk to Her” were a different film, the denouement and conclusion might be problematic. Here, the movie’s final act never seems anything less than logical thanks to Almodovar’s attention to detail and the nuanced performances of Grandinetti and Camara. The tone and style of the film also overcome any difficulties the audience may have with the film’s content.

The film is beautifully shot by Javier Aguirresarobe, who gives the film a strikingly poetic look that changes – often dramatically – based on the setting. The bullfighting scenes in particular ripple with grace, clarity, and horror – they cut to the core of what is essentially a ferociously violent spectator sport.

Much of the film’s credit must be attributed to director Pedro Almodovar. “Talk to Her,” is at times quite disturbing, and its melodramatic plot twists unfold in often-shocking ways, but Almodovar is a master of his craft, and he controls the film in a perfectly orchestrated minor key.

Under a different, brasher and less experienced director, “Talk to Her” may have been a much lesser film than what Almodovar achieved.

Ultimately, it is his sensitivity and subtlety as both a writer and as a director – coupled with the fine acting of both Camara and Grandinetti – that keeps the film afloat.

For those unfamiliar with the works of Almodovar, “Talk to Her” is a fine starting point, as it is one of the best films of the past few years.