Hable con ella (Talk to Her)
directed by Pedro Almodovar
(Sony Pictures, 2002)

"Nothing is simple," declares mistress Katerina Bilova, minutes before the final curtain falls on Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's Academy Award-winning film Hable con ella (Talk to Her).

By then, the audience needs little convincing.

Certainly, nothing is simple for Marco Zuluaga, a travel writer struggling to overcome the loss of his one true love, a woman he saved from a life of drug addiction, only to have her family chase him off.

And it's no simpler for Lydia Gonzalez, Spain's leading lady bullfighter, who's just lost the great love of her life -- El Nino, the only male bullfighter in Spain who would share the ring with her -- and is beginning to feel drawn into a relationship with Marco, who has approached her for an interview.

And it may seem simple for Alicia, a young woman who became comatose following a car accident four years before the curtain rises on Almodovar's film, and for her caregiver, Benigno Martin, a male nurse who spends nearly all of his waking hours seeing to it that Alicia is bathed and clothed and massaged and cared for in every way a comatose patient can be cared for.

But looks are deceiving, as Marco (Dario Grandinetti) discovers after a distraught Lydia (Rosario Flores) goes into a bull ring and is gored nearly to death. Within hours, the now-comatose bullfighter is in the hospital, just down the hall from Alicia (Leonor Watling), and Marco and Benigno (Javier Camara) have crossed paths.

If this sounds like the plot of a very complicated film, prepare yourself: this is the background of the plot of a very complicated film, as revealed in a series of flashbacks and conversations dished out at odd intervals over the course of Almodovar's 112-minute film.

What Talk to Her is really about is the blossoming friendship between Benigno -- a young man who's done very little in his 24 years besides care for his mother and care for Alicia -- and Marco, a considerably more experienced hand who's carrying around a burden much too large for him to bear: he and Lydia agreed it was essential for them to talk about their relationship right after her bullfight.

Now, he says, that's impossible. Not so, says Benigno, who doesn't feel consciousness is a prerequisite for a loving relationship. "Talk to her," he tells Marco. Would that it were so simple.

Talk to Her is a brilliant film that combines a powerful narrative with equally powerful images, many drawn from the world of ballet, others from classic silent cinema. It has moments that are very sweet and some that are quite funny, but just as many that are maddeningly bitter.

There are even times when Almodovar seems to lose his sense of narrative, as in Marco's flashback to his days in Africa. The visuals adds nothing to the story; in fact, they seem a bit overwrought, if not downright silly.

Then, too, there's the problem of the translation. Almodovar's characters are a chatty bunch, and the subtitles are a bit stilted. Some sound as if they'd been written by someone with a script in one hand and a Spanish-English dictionary in the other.

And there's the question of how viewers will respond to Benigno when his flashbacks reveal more than he would want known, and when his determination to have a lifelong loving relationship with Alicia leads him into a moral quagmire that even a ballerina mistress (Geraldine Chaplin) can't help him dance out of.

But say what you like, Almodovar, who scripted as well as directed Talk to Her, has taken an unlikely group of characters, put them in an unlikely situation and wrung from them an unlikely amount of insight into the human condition.

Will you buy it all? Probably not.

Will you marvel at it? Simply put: Yes.

- Rambles
written by Miles O'Dometer
published 20 December 2003

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