The cinema of Pedro Almodóvar is one of our finest imports. He has a talent for creating entertaining stories from the most difficult universal condition, often through deftly balancing melodrama and comedy, such as in the operatic stylings of All About My Mother or the more simplistically toned Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. His latest, Talk to Her, returns Almodóvar to a more interactive sentimentality through a pair of male pals that bond over their desire for comatose patients.
This central focus, the platonically affectionate friendship of two men, is admirably rare to begin with. Sure, men are pals in domestic-made features, but they rarely hug or discuss emotional dysfunction because American society is so homophobic. Audiences and critics alike are attuned to the slightest hint that a film might be presenting a gay character or subplot so that it can be easy to dismiss even the most intelligent works of fiction as simply "queer" without giving it the further attention to human issues it deserves. One would think that writer/director Almodóvar would lean more towards gay/lesbian issues, being a homosexual, but he thankfully seems bent on capturing the essence of people, in all their parts, and not just whom they choose to sleep with. His consistently honest stance, both in interviews and film projects, fuels his ability to intelligently articulate heart-wrenching and heartwarming experiences with all of his creations, regardless of sexual orientation.
Coupled with poignant acting, the scenes between Benigno (Javier Cámara, Sex and Lucia) and Marco (Dario Grandinetti) have beautifully progressive dialogue, which runs the gamut from encouragement to criticism, but never falls into the trap of verbalizing every emotion, so that you are left to sympathize with their various moods. Each plot transition is effectively paced to keep the story within the realm of realism without the usual predictable reactions life-changing events often provoke in a film.
Of course, because the basic foundation of the film is reflecting on ideas inspired by people that cannot reciprocate conversation, parts of Talk can drag on with shades of repetition. And since the setting is often two people talking in a room, there are times when it plays more like theater than film. It's appreciated that Almodóvar respects his characters' changing motivations, but some sections end well after the emotional points have been made, which can get particularly exhausting when watching two hours worth of drama.
But the atmosphere remains as visually stimulating to watch as the people inhabiting them that draw our attention. These men are fascinating because they are imperfect, emotive, and smart without being wimpy, which is what American directors usually make their male protagonists into in times of crisis. It's also an amusing idea to have a plot that rests on characters who are unresponsive, a wonderful challenge that the veteran filmmaker rises to better than expected. Adding to an already eclectic body of work that supports a positive human spirit through an ensemble journey, Talk to Her is just plain great cinema that we could use more of.
Aka Hable con ella.
Sure, talk to her, just not during the movie.