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Talk to Her (December 7/02)

Pedro Almodovar's latest film, Talk to Her, is one of his few films that focuses in on two male characters.The majority of his pictures, including the acclaimed All About My Mother, are concerned mostly with women and their problems. Here, he proves to be surprisingly adept in creating male characters worth caring about, and indeed, the two protagonists in Talk to Her are among the most compelling committed to screen all year.

The film opens with a bizarre ballet recital, featuring two women dancing with their eyes closed and a man throwing chairs out of their way. It's certainly an odd sight, but it's at the recital that we first meet the two primary male characters in Talk to Her. Though they're sitting next to each other, Marco (Dario Grandinetti) and Benigno (Javier Camera) won't actually meet until later in the picture. Marco is a reporter who decides to write a story about a female bullfighter named Lydia (Rosario Flores), after spotting her on a talk show. He hooks up with her, and the two are soon in love. Tragedy strikes, though, when Lydia is gored by a bull and winds up in a coma. It's in the hospital he formally meets Benigno, a caregiver who's working full-time with another coma patient - a former ballerina named Alicia (Leonor Watling). Benigno's relationship with Alicia initially seems to be one of caring guardian, but as time progresses, we discover that there's more to it than that. All the while, Benigno and Marco are becoming close friends - with Marco finding it easier to talk to Benigno than his comatose girlfriend.

Though Talk to Her isn't exactly heavy on plot, the movie manages to remain compelling throughout mostly due to some spectacular lead performances. Grandinetti, in particular, is a standout as the journalist whose entire world comes crumbling down around him. He has, as another character notes, an astoundingly expressive face - one that's put to good use by Almodovar, who often showcases it in loving close-up. But more than that, this is a tremendously layered performance. Marco is certainly an incredibly complicated character, and the various facets of his personality are revealed slowly as the film progresses. Just as good is Camera as Benigno, a character who we're never quite sure about. His life, as we soon find out, has been spent caring for women - first his mother for twenty years and now Alicia - which has seemingly stunted his pass from childhood into adulthood. His innocence is eventually revealed to have a dark side, which puzzles Marco more than anything else but doesn't diminish their friendship.

And that's really the key to the film. Talk to Her is about men and the way in which they relate to each other. Marco and Benigno are both troubled in their own way, and it's through their conversations together that they begin to work through their problems. Marco doesn't know how to deal with Lydia in her comatose state, refusing even to talk to her, while Marco has long (albeit one-sided) discussions with Alicia. At one point, Marco mentions that the four years he's been working with Alicia have been the best in his life - which isn't terribly surprising, given that he devoted himself completely to his mother for twenty-odd years. And though that should have been enough - two completely believable male characters - Almodovar's included a variety of intriguing supporting female roles. From the two comatose patients (who are afforded some conscious screen time) to a nurse that works alongside Benigno, even the smallest character has something interesting going on - more so than even the main protagonist in some Hollywood films.

In an unusual move (to say the least), Almodovar interrupts the story around the halfway point and inserts footage from a silent film being watched by Benigno. Presumably, the silent film we're looking at becomes a part of Benigno's imagination midway through, because there's certainly no way a film like that could've ever been made. It's this section that stands out as Almodovar's only indulgence (well, that and a Reservoir Dogs-esque flashback that sees a character talking from within a story), and doesn't really serve any purpose except to take us away from the characters for about seven minutes. Still, even including that one bizarre sidetrack, Talk to Her is one of the most engaging and honest films to hit screens in a while.

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