- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

You have to hand it to Pedro Almodovar, one of Spain's best cinematic talents. Not many directors could write a script that involves bullfighting, quasi-necrophilia and rape and make a nuanced and emotionally rich movie from it.
"Talk to Her," in Spanish with English subtitles, is not an easy film to digest. Themes and subthemes twist, tango and collide with surprising grace; its visual beauty almost subsumes the complicated narrative.
By the end, its moral horror may pass right by you.
If "Talk to Her" can be said to be about one thing, it's silence: the way it colors loneliness, the way it prevents authentic human connection.
Mr. Almodovar makes this point in several interesting ways, most centrally through two comatose women: Alicia (Leonar Watling), a young and beautiful danseuse, and Lydia (Rosario Flores), a butch toreador gored and trampled by a bull.
The vegetative pair are prefigured in the film's opening scene, a re-creation of German choreographer Pina Bausch's "Cafe Muller," in which two sleepwalking women glide unconsciously into walls, wooden chairs and a man's arms.
In the audience are the two male protagonists of "Talk to Her" Benigno (Javier Camara), an undersexed and reclusive nurse, and Marco (Dario Grandinetti), a weepy, good-hearted travel writer who prefers his women desperate and needy.
Benigno is a man-child, slightly effeminate, perhaps homosexual; he is a vivid and fully realized character, with lots of emotional quirks and tics at which Mr. Almodovar is only able to hint.
The same could be said for Marco, a vulnerably compassionate and empathetic man; the world is too much with him.
Before taking up with Lydia herself on the rebound from an affair with a fellow bullfighter (Adolfo Fernandez) Marco rescued an underage girl from Madrid's drug underworld, bringing her along to exotic locales such as Istanbul, the Ivory Coast and Havana. Only when they were on the run could their relationship work.
At bottom, both men are caregivers. They exist to give and care and can't define themselves apart from that ethic.
By coincidence, Benigno and Marco meet at El Bosque, a sumptuous private clinic where Alicia and Lydia are being treated.
Thus begins the weird and creepy psychodrama that motors "Talk to Her," turning its focus on the peculiar (and necessarily one-sided) relationship between Benigno and Alicia.
Benigno, it turns out, has been attending to Alicia for four years at El Bosque, in squeamishly intimate ways. The patient's father (Helio Pedregal), assured that Benigno is gay, has no qualms about his daughter's curious handler.
The ostensibly innocent and naive Benigno talks to Alicia, incessantly, matter-of-factly, personally, even lovingly. The truth, however, is that he's obsessed with his sleeping beauty and was so before a car accident snuffed out her consciousness.
Benigno, we later learn, used to stalkingly watch Alicia's graceful, lithe and most important silent movements through the picture window of a dance studio.
The only way Benigno is capable of communing with a woman is when she's silent.
"We get along better than most married couples," he insists to Marco, defending the unthinkable. The unthinkable: Alicia, who is alive, but only in the sense that a reptile is alive, winds up pregnant.
In a sequence that is almost cruelly burlesque, considering what it papers over, Mr. Almodovar masks Alicia's rape by switching to a (fittingly) silent film of his own creation, "Shrinking Lovers."
It is a bawdy and naughty little film that is nonetheless powerful for what it implies: Benigno's physical and mental retreat into unreality.
Repugnant though his actions are, there still is sympathy left for Benigno. His is a truly sad pathology, and Mr. Almodovar treats him delicately, as he does all the characters in "Talk to Her."
But as touching as Benigno's love for Alicia seems, he finds no redemption in silence. Without language without words we aren't fully human.
Never before has silence been packed with so much eloquence.
"Talk to Her" (Spanish with English subtitles)
R (frequent nudity, profanity, mature sexual themes)
Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar
112 minutes

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