Spanish director hits the mark again

Pedro Almodovar is Spain’s most brilliant director, and his last
film,

All About My Mother,

was a worldwide smash as well as the deserved winner of the
Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
Almodovar has created a breadth of work that can stand with the
cinema’s greatest masters, with a list of films that includes

Law of Desire,


Matador,


Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,


Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down

and

Live Flesh.

Pedro Almodovar is Spain’s most brilliant director, and his last film, “All About My Mother,” was a worldwide smash as well as the deserved winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Almodovar has created a breadth of work that can stand with the cinema’s greatest masters, with a list of films that includes “Law of Desire,” “Matador,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down” and “Live Flesh.”

Almodovar is a director with a flair for the melodrama, and he has been compared favorably to one of his heroes, American Director Douglas Sirk. “Talk to Her,” his new film, is another stunner and will be on my list of the Best Films of the Year.

As the film opens, we see two men at a theater dance performance. The dancers are moving to Purcell’s “The Fairy Queen,” and their movements are affecting the audience to its core, causing one, Marco (Dario Grandinetti), to burst into tears. Marco’s emotional outburst has an effect on Benigno (Javier Camara), who can’t cry but is equally moved. “Talk to Her” is about these two strangers who come together in friendship under some extraordinary circumstances. Two months later, they will meet again in a hospital.

Benigno works at “El Bosque,” a private hospital where he earns his living as a nurse caring for many patients, but prefers to take care of his true love, the comatose Alicia (Leonor Watling), a beautifull ballet student injured in a car accident. Benigno is a warm and kind soul, a virgin. He loves Alicia because he can talk to her unconditionally without fear of her rejecting him. He truly believes his love and affection for her will bring her back to life from the coma.

One day, Marco walks by the door to Alicia’s room, and recognizes Benigno from the theater dance performance. Never hesitating, Marco enters the room and starts to talk with Benigno about Alicia’s condition, confessing that his girlfriend, Lydia (Rosario Flores), too, is in a coma. A great, famous, female bullfighter, Lydia is suffering from being gored ferociously by a bull. Marco and Benigno become immediate friends, as their situations are eerily similar and they turn to each other for comfort and support.

As the film moves forward, it becomes apparent that the two women they love are being affected differently by their keepers. Benigno, who doesn’t know Alicia but loves her, washes his patient lovingly and talks to her, telling her stories about himself and telling her that it will only be a matter of time before she is better. The doctors tell Alicia’s father that there is little hope, but Benigno feels like his communication with her will bring her through.

Marco, a journalist who falls in love with the bullfighter Lydia after asking her for a profile interview, reacts differently than his friend Benigno to her comatose state. Instead of communicating with Lydia, he instead turns to Benigno for companionship and sympathy. He doesn’t know how to communicate with what he sees as a corpse, not knowing Lydia in any other way than her take-life-by-the-reins vein. Benigno tells Marco to communicate his feelings to Lydia, regardless of her state of consciousness, but alas Marco cannot.

“Talk to Her” tells its rich story via flashbacks, and we get to meet Alicia and Lydia when they were vibrant. Alicia works hard to become a ballet dancer and bonds with her wonderful teacher, the aging but beautiful Katarina. Geraldine Chaplin’s is a wonderful supporting performance as Katarina, and it’s great to see her on film again.

The flashbacks also tell Marco and Lydia’s story, culminating with the emphatic, surreal gorging of Lydia by the bull. Lydia’s father, and many journalists in the Spanish media have mentioned that despite her success as a bullfighter, women have no place in the ring. Almodovar refuses to judge his women or his men in this moving film about friendship, communication and silence.

TALK TO HER. Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar. With Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, Rosario Flores, Geraldine Chaplin and Mariola Fuentes. Rated R (nudity, language, violence), 112 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Now playing at selected Bay Area theaters.

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