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With: Javier Cámara, Darío Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, Rosario Flores, Mariola Fuentes, Geraldine Chaplin, Caetano Veloso
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
MPAA Rating: R for nudity, sexual content and some language
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Running Time: 112
Date: 15/03/2002

Talk to Her (2002)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Gift of Gab

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Talk to Her on DVD

While Todd Haynes made a fine tribute to director Douglas Sirk in this year's excellent Far from Heaven, Haynes isn't Sirk's only heir.

To do melodrama properly, it has to be in your blood. Sirk's first heir was German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who lived and breathed melodrama. Fassbinder, who died at 38, made Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, the quasi-remake of Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, and one of cinema's greatest treasures.

The title of Sirk's best heir goes to Pedro Almodovar. While Almodovar is as passionate as Fassbinder, he takes his passion in stride. He's not in a hurry. His characters, too, resonate deeply, as if they'd been simmering in his brain for years.

Almodovar's mid-1980s breakthrough films -- Matador, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! -- are similar to Fassbinder's: explosive, irreverent, careless. But in recent years the 52-year old Almodovar has learned to relax.

Though his newer films are less exciting than the earlier ones, they're more impressive, mature and dignified. All About My Mother (1999), a memorable example this new direction, won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. But Almodovar's new film, Talk to Her, which opens today in Bay Area theaters, surpasses it.

Talk to Her is so darned assured, we have absolutely no idea who the main characters are until the film is well under way -- and yet it's hard to stop watching.

It begins with the enticing character, a female bullfighter, Lydia (Rosario Flores), who meets and falls in love with a journalist, Marco (Dario Graninetti), who's working on a story on her. He earns points by chasing a snake out of her house.

One fateful day, Lydia is gored by a bull and winds up in a coma. Visiting her at the hospital, Marco meets a male nurse, Benigno (Javier Camara). Benigno obsessively cares for another coma patient, Alicia (Leonor Watling), who was a dancer before a car ran her down.

And so Talk to Her becomes the story of two men, Benigno and Marco, who spend time talking to each other while their women sleep.

Almodovar fills in details from both men's lives in flashback. As the two men get to know each other better, so do we. Marco, who lost the love of his life, cries whenever he sees something beautiful he can't share with her. Graninetti does a beautiful job of carrying this immense sadness without drowning in it.

Benigno's story is far more disturbing. He's a stalker who fell in love with Alicia while watching her in the dance studio across from his apartment. Yet Camara makes Benigno so full and so sweet, we can't really get angry with him; we feel sorry for him instead.

At one point, he settles in for a long night of caring for Alicia, giving her a massage and telling her about a silent movie he saw; before her coma Alicia told Benigno she liked silent movies. Almodovar shows Benigno's silent movie in a long, amazingly rendered sequence that's the talk of Talk to Her.

In this non-existent film, a scientist finds himself shrunk to inches tall and winds up exploring the sleeping, naked body of his female assistant. Among other things, he surveys a vagina about twice as tall as he is.

Almodovar uses this silent film to cover one of the film's more unsavory moments: Benigno raping, and impregnating, the comatose Alicia. It's not long before the hospital staff figures out who the culprit was, and Benigno is sent to prison. Marco, it turns out, is the only one who comes to help him.

Talk to Her is brilliant in the way the story carefully unfolds, how it's peeled away from opposite edges until the core remains. Almodovar is unafraid of an emotional -- potentially erotic -- relationship between men, and is equally fascinated by beauty and ugliness; he sees value in both.

Javier Aguirresarobe's cinematography perfectly captures this duality, juxtaposing cold, sterile scenes with warm, richly colored ones. A softly beautiful scene in which Marco listens to music with Lydia, then runs off to be alone with his tears, is one of the most magical of the year.

Some critics see Almodovar as a big softie, without many of the challenges that famous world filmmakers should have. ("Sure, he's good but he's no Bergman/Fellini/Bunuel.") Yet his sensitivity itself is challenge enough for most people; he understands fragility and gets close enough to touch the breaking point.

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