Talk To Her opens with two men watching a Pina Bausch performance and crying in the audience, and then the next thing you know the movie is introducing a lady matador who is terrified of snakes, and there is just so much going on here for me to be very interested in! There are slow orchestral scored bull fights filmed like dance sequences, silent film interludes which we will extremely be coming back to, a woman describing at length her vision for a ballet about the First World War where as each soldier dies a ballerina blooms out of him as his ghost…. I’m so in it, I’m loving it, enough that I’m willing to see where it’s going to go with the grim growing theme of men having no regard for women’s bodily autonomy—what d’ya got going on here, Pedro?
For Talk To Her (Hable con ella) would be a four-hander, but very soon half the quartet is mute and lifeless. The lady matador is gored and falls into a coma, joining the same Bummer Green hospital floor as a young ballerina who was hit by a car several years ago. The passionate Lydia we get to spend some time with at the beginning of the movie, following her blossoming relationship with sensitive Argentinian journalist Marco. But Alicia, the dancer, we only briefly meet in a shallow flashback much later, rendering her the perfect blank, silent, female-shaped vessel into which the sweet but addled nurse Benigno can pour all his care and loneliness. The two men are left to develop their only reciprocated relationship with each other, which they do readily.
The women are medically braindead, they are gone, they can no longer respond to them in any way, and yet the men cannot stop obsessing over them, tending to them, and in Benigno’s case, always talking to them. The men have basically nothing else in their lives that isn’t about their comatose sleeping beauties. They spend all their time at the hospital. They dress the women up in robes and bring them out on a terrace, position them like they’re whispering to each other about them. It’s fascinating.
Pedro Almodóvar is an extraordinarily talented filmmaker, which I believe because I really like and enjoy his movies despite them all having such uncomfortable and problematic topics! This one was a doozy. And there’s another component, and also where the spoiler as well as content warning comes in: I’ve seen three Almodóvar films now, and every one of them has involved sexual assault. Most of them also dive into some real thorny messiness with regard to gender and sexuality, often all three elements getting tangled up together, as they do in this one. His movies all very much ask to be UNPACKED, but they’re done with enough artistry and openness that I feel willing to, because I feel there is value here. Almodóvar is the sort of director I want making challenging movies about these topics, because he doesn’t shy away from wounds and difficulty, and yet he also isn’t being self-importantly ~dark~. There’s always something so colorful and approachable in his movies—melodramatic sure, but of the style of melodrama, where people cry a lot but the film doesn’t bog you down in it. Almodóvar films are never bogged down, their feet always light and unfettered, free to take a sudden, weird leap to land somewhere many projects could never reach.
And the weirdest leap here is not the terrible, obvious thing you hope isn’t coming, what is—tragically—expected, but something I didn’t expect at ALL. Which is that one time when Benigno is telling Alicia about a silent film he went to, and we get to see the fake silent film. Everything….is perfect. The makeup, the costumes, the sets, the frame rate, the acting. I was just exclaiming aloud the entire time!! It feels EXACTLY like a silent film you could watch, up until the point that it DOESN’T. Or you know, I should not say that—I have not actually watched any Spanish silent films. Perhaps the Spanish silent films are all dazzlingly psychosexual.
Anyway, in conclusion:
“One day, you and I should talk.”
“Yes, and it will be simpler than you think.”
“Nothing is simple. I am a ballet mistress, and nothing is simple.”