Original release: March 15, 2002
Running time: 112 minutes
Country of origin: Spain
Original language: Spanish with English subtitles
Writer and director: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Javier Cámara, Leonor Watling, Darío Grandinetti, Rosario Flores
Love is full of idolisation. As soon as we begin to have feelings for others, we place them on pedestals – even when those feelings aren’t reciprocated. It’s then easy to blot out someone’s shortcomings rather than seeing them for the rounded and flawed individuals they are.
Such rose-tinted glasses and idolisation can often lead to obsessive behaviour and it’s these themes, amongst many others, Pedro Almodóvar looks to explore in Talk To Me.
Benigno (Javier Cámara) is a male nurse at a private clinic. He’s one of two people caring solely for comatose ballet dancer Alicia (Leonor Watling), and he’s in love with her.
Marco (Darío Grandinetti) is an Argentinean journalist who’s struck by female matador, Lydia (Rosario Flores), when he sees her in an interview on television. He proposes an article on her for his newspaper and the two begin a romantic involvement only to be cut short when Lydia is gored by a bull and ends up in a coma in the room next to Alicia’s. Thus the two men are left to venerate and care for their sleeping women whilst also forming a friendship with each other.
Although the film has something less of the visual flourish of the director’s earlier work, the exploration of sexual desire and the adoration of women is still apparent in Talk To Her, and it’s unmistakably an Almodóvar piece.
The plot, when described, can seem sensational, and though there’re some great moments of melodrama, it’s also a touching film, pervaded by a sad loneliness, understated longing and a sweet and tender love.
There’s one line in particular which summed this up perfectly for me. In an exchange in the car en route to the bullfight which would see Lydia injured, she says to Marco, “We need to talk after the fight,” at which point he claims they’ve been talking for an hour, “You have, not me” she responds. This scene, with Lydia’s eyes obscured by sunglasses is very melodramatic until we see the scene replayed in context through a later flashback and it becomes incredibly touching.
The full extent of Benigno’s obsession and feelings for Alicia become clear through flashbacks where we learn he spent years caring for his mother, whom he understands was not ill but just lazy, and thus he did everything for her.
In living opposite Alicia’s ballet school he noticed her from a distance and after his mother’s death he became more infatuated, culminating in putting himself forward for her care when she was hit by a car.
This all lends Benigno’s relationship with Alicia an air of suspicion as he and his fellow nurse bathe Alicia’s naked body. The unhealthy nature of his attachment is exemplified by him spending his free time doing things Alicia enjoyed so he may talk to her about them during his shifts.
Almodóvar feels for his characters, and even when Benigno’s story takes a considerably darker turn, this is suggested through a dreamlike sequence in which the nurse describes a silent film he went to see. It showed a shrunken man attempting to pleasure his lover.
The adoration is not only evident in Benigno. Marco devotes himself entirely to ‘damaged’ women and recalls a previous heartbreaking relationship with a drug addict that’s haunted him for a decade. Various events bring him to tears during the film and these are often due to memories of her. He sits at Lydia’s bedside, although he can never bring himself to talk to her – despite the nurse’s encouragement.
Lydia herself is attempting to banish the memory of a painful relationship with Spain’s most famous matador in which she feels she was used, despite her undying love for him. Beningo’s colleague also has feelings for him and doesn’t want to face up to his actions later in the movie.
The sadness and loneliness of these characters is accentuated towards the film’s close where it seems like no one will end up with who they love. As the film ends, we think back to the opening scene which sees a Pina Bausch performance of Café Müller where Benigno and Marco are sat next to each other without knowing one another – the latter in tears, naturally.
The performance sees Bausch and another woman racing across a stage full of chairs with their eyes closed, entirely in the moment. A male dancer runs before them flinging the debris from their path to clear the way.
Without question, this is a metaphor for the women in the film and so we must wonder whether the man is Benigno or Marco. The final shot would suggest a potential answer as well as giving us a glimpse of a possible happy ending of sorts, despite the preceding drama and tragedy.
Talk To Her suggests idolatry doesn’t work out that well for anyone involved but we are not left feeling down. There are lonely characters, but there are moments of happiness and the idea that even in their weird ways, they all get to be in love.
Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.
His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.