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Anatomy Lesson


Talk to Her

Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 2002

Rating: 4.5



Posted: March 15, 2003

By Laurence Station

Pedro Almodóvar's fascination with and fear of the female body takes center stage in Talk To Her. Having worn out his feelings on the maternalistic aspect of womanhood with his 1999 masterpiece All About My Mother, Spain's greatest auteur since Luis Buñuel concentrates his focus on the power, beauty, fragility and natural rhythms of the female anatomy. Utilizing the bright, bold cinematic strokes for which he's known, Almodóvar ably considers whether it's possible to love a woman solely for her body, or if the love one feels for another dies once the mind of that person has been obliterated.

The plot centers on two men -- Benigno (Javier Camara), a male nurse, and Marco (Dario Grandinetti), a journalist and author of travel books -- and the two comatose women they love. Alicia (Leonor Watling) is a beautiful young dancer who's been in a coma for four years due to a car accident, and is now tended to full time by Benigno. Benigno barely got to know Alicia while she was still conscious, but now explores every part of her body as her caretaker. Lydia (Rosario Flores) is a famous bullfighter, unlucky in love until she meets Marco. Their relationship brings happiness to both, but then Lydia is gouged in the ring and placed in the same hospital as Alicia. There, the two men get to know one another, and the degrees of their involvement with each other and the two women grows increasingly complicated and intertwined.

Benigno's love for Alicia was born out of a distant infatuation, while the older Marco's relationship with Lydia was one of two professionally successful but emotionally unfulfilled adults, hurt or disappointed in past relationships, finding solace with one another. For Marco, the idea of loving Lydia now that what made her Lydia is gone is all but impossible. When Benigno gives Marco a simple piece of advice -- to talk to her, as he does almost continuously to his beloved Alicia -- Marco cannot; the woman he loved is now just a hollow, essentially lifeless shell. Benigno, on the other hand, knows that under normal circumstances Alicia wouldn't have had the slightest interest in him; in her comatose state, he has her right where he wants her.

Almodóvar's attempt at resolving the issues of the two men and their comatose women proves far trickier than the intriguing setup. Unfortunately, the director falls into a familiar trap that has served him so well in the past: Melodrama. All About My Mother worked brilliantly precisely due to its creative use of melodramatic tension and overblown, artfully clichéd situations. Talk to Her suffers as a result of this same tendency, however, primarily because the mood here is more naturalistic and somber. Almodóvar has grown up as a filmmaker, no longer playing Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down games with his audience, and it's a credit to his craft that he tackles such complex and endlessly fascinating themes of love, loss and the nature of obsession as smartly as he does. But that doesn't prevent him from introducing shocking elements later in the film that veer a little too close to pat soap opera or tabloid press payoff, regrettably dampening the overall impact of the story.

While the story may waver, the performances are strong, especially Camara's Benigno and Grandinetti's Marco (who of course have the most to work with). And Almodóvar once again displays how well versed he is in the language of cinema, conveying his ideas and themes through powerful visuals rather than expositional dialogue. In a scene certain to attract attention, Benigno recounts to Alicia a silent movie he has seen in which the lover of a female scientist shrinks himself after drinking one of her potions and, in a sequence Freud would have undoubtedly found analytically satisfying, crawls inside the woman's vagina, disappearing forever. Almodóvar's playful fearlessness with the form, so intertwined with his own anxieties and devotion to the feminine mystique, remains one of the director's most endearing traits.

Despite its flaws, Talk to Her successfully transcends mere art-house contrivance. In exploring the boundaries between physical and mental love, and the theme of finding the beauty within, it offers an honest and refreshing look at the nature of love and its meaning for different people.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterpiece
 4.0-4.9: Exceptional

 3.0-3.9: Solid fare

 2.0-2.9: The mediocrities...
 1.1-1.9: Poor
 0.0-1.0: Utter dreck
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