FILM REVIEW ***
Hable Con Almodovar
Has Pedro Finally Gotten Over His Mother?
Hable con Ella (Talk To Her)
Written and Directed by Pedro AlmodÓvar
Starring Javier CÁmara, Dario Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, and Rosario Flores
Credited with introducing Spanish culture to homosexuals and aesthetes world wide, director Pedro AlmodÓvar has spent his career on the verge of something big: not a nervous breakdown, as the title of his signature film would suggest, but, rather, a self-indulgent descent into campiness and irrelevance. It would be hard to find a worse example than his last movie, 1999’s Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother), which raked in undeserved accolades including an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2000.
It is with a melodramatic sigh of relief, then, that I can announce that his latest movie, Hable con Ella (Talk to Her), doesn’t suck. AlmodÓvar seems to have recaptured much of the pathos of his past films without sacrificing his sense of humor. Even more noteworthy is the dramatic maturation of the themes wrestled with unsuccessfully in Todo Sobre Mi Madre: homosexuality, womanhood, obsession, and death.
The appropriately-titled Benigno (Javier CÁmara) is a sexually-ambiguous nurse in charge of coma-patient Alicia (Leonor Watling). Marco (Dario Grandinetti) is in love with Lydia (Rosario Flores), a female matador who joins Alicia and Benigno when she is mauled by a bull. Can a man love a woman in a catatonic state? Can the woman love him back? Is the friendship between two men ever just friendship?
Although the female leads spend half of the movie motionless (but looking pretty), the little-known CÁmara and Grandinetti do respectable jobs as Benigno and Marco, balancing sexual tension and platonic empathy without trivializing their relationship.
The real credit for this film’s success, however, should be given to the director himself, who manages the same tension throughout the movie. Hable con Ella, like Todo Sobre Mi Madre, uses movies and plays within a movie to its advantage.
The film opens and closes with beautifully choreographed dance sequences, and Benigno’s obsession with silent movies (presumably paralleling his own inability to communicate with Alicia) is an entertaining aside. It is in these moments that AlmodÓvar is most comfortable and adept, self-referentially adapting scenes of Spanish melodrama and passion to parallel the lives of his characters.
Unlike the earlier film, Hable con Ella rises above its backdrop and humanizes moments that are usually left to sexual deviants. I left Todo Sobre Mi Madre feeling that, not being a drag queen or a bona fide woman, I had been somehow left out of the joke. Hable con Ella, on the other hand, makes having sex with someone in a coma completely understandable, even to those of us who haven’t done the same thing.