Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her,” the recent recipient of two Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director, is a cinematic reminder of the inherent differences between the way Hollywood directors and foreign filmmakers go about bringing a story to the screen. Avoiding the insipid formula of a Tinsel Town melodrama, Spanish filmmaker Almodovar uses a different brush and canvas to paint his elegant soap opera.
The film opens with an avant-garde dance performance of two women swimming across a stage sporadically laden with chairs and tables. Two strangers sit next to each other in the audience, one the teary-eyed journalist Marco (Dario Grandinetti), the other the empathetic nurse Benigno (Javier Camara). These two men share nothing in common other than an appreciation for dance, but soon they find their lives intertwining in an intricate web of love and tragedy.
Through work, Marco meets Lydia (Rosario Flores), a heralded Spanish bullfighter who has received national recognition for being a vocal female matador in a male-dominated profession. The two become lovers, but their brief relationship is put on hold when Lydia is gored in the bullring and falls into a coma. Some of the most glorious scenes in “Talk to Her” are of Lydia’s bullfights – each instance filmed with grace and splendor by Almodovar, highlighting the artistic rudiments of the traditional Spanish sport.
Benigno works at a hospital caring for a comatose dancer, rarely leaving her bedside. The young woman is Alicia (Leonro Watling), the victim of a car accident and the object of Benigno’s desire. Despite Alicia’s inability to communicate with him, Benigno falls in love with her with a rapport that sways between true love and psychotic behavior. Camara does a superb job in portraying a disturbed character for whom viewers can’t help but feel sympathetic.
As fate would have it, Lydia is sent to the same hospital as Alicia, where Benigno watches over the ill women. When Marco and Benigno meet again in the confines of their bed-stricken lovers, the two men instantaneously go from strangers to friends. This point in “Talk to Her” is when coincidence ends and revelation begins.
Almodovar eloquently dances between the past and the present, progressing his tightly-woven plot through a series of flashbacks that reveal not only the memoirs of his beautifully illustrated characters, but also the creative brilliance of writer/director Almodovar. The time shifts are seamless in the context of the narrative, accentuating the film’s poetic qualities.
“Talk to Her” is one of the most visually-striking films of the past year, as Almodovar manages to show off his artistic flair without being ostentatious. From his meticulous use of slow motion in the bullfights to an uproarious homage to the silent film era, Almodovar makes a strong case for his Best Director nomination. The sensational plot of the film may not seem as foreign to Hollywood, although it is distinctly more abstruse, but Almodovar shapes this rather conventional story, at least by his standards, into a truly unique piece of art.