Hable Con Ella (Talk To Her) (15)

Review by Jack Foley

PROVOCATIVE filmmaker, Pedro Almodovar, continues to explore the themes of friendship and love in surprising and stimulating ways in Hable Con Ella (Talk To Her), his first film since the multi-award winning Todo sobre mi Madre (All About My Mother) three years ago.

Beginning pretty much where that movie ended, with the camera trained upon a pair of gold and pink theatrical curtains, Hable Con Ella focuses on the friendship that develops between two men who are both in love with women in comas.

Travel writer, Marco (Dario Grandinetti), first comes into contact with male nurse, Benigno (Javier Cámara) at a modern dance production, when the former is moved to tears by the spectacle. The two do not speak, but Benigno notes Marco’s reaction.

The film then skips forward two months, as Benigno continues to care for a comatose young ballet student (Leonor Watling's, Alicia) in a private medical clinic, while Marco visits Rosario Flores’s heartbroken bullfighter, Lydia, with whom he has started an affair.

Benigno immediately recognises Marco and encourages him to talk to Lydia, believing in the type of ‘miracle’ that may eventually release both Alicia and Lydia from their unconscious states.

The journey which results is a compelling, uplifting and emotionally enriching experience that isn’t without its share of controversy, but which remains one of the most assured and imaginative films of the year.

Almodovar has lost none of his ability to toy with viewers’ notions, while his assured touch behind the camera is here in abundance; never more so than during the film’s most evocative sequence, a seven-minute black-and-white silent film, entitled ‘The Shrinking Lover’, in which the diminutive protagonist gets to explore the contours of his lover's anatomy (the lover in question being played by Sex and Lucia star, Paz Vega).

And while Hollywood seems content to play to the predictable and safe when tackling affairs of the heart, Almodovar flirts with controversy, throwing some blatant religious metaphors as well as the issue of rape into the mix, without ever feeling the need to be overly-sensational.

So while some European/indie flicks, this year, have sought to find audiences with their ability to shock, Almodovar remains consistently challenging without ever resorting to cheap shots.

And he draws some incredibly heartfelt performances from his sympathetic leads, both of whom find a companionship in each other at a difficult time. Cámara’s tragic Benigno, in particular, is a complex creation, a life-long loner whose infatuation for Watling’s beautiful dancer comes at great personal cost and which extends to before her accident.

His relationship with both Alicia and Marco makes for tremendously affecting which tugs at the heartstrings without ever manipulating them.

As an essential exploration of the themes of love, friendship, art and loneliness, Hable Con Ella is another example of Almodovar at his effortless best.

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