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After a chance encounter at a theater, two men, Benigno and Marco, meet at a private clinic where Benigno works. Lydia, Marco's girlfriend and a bullfighter by profession, has been gored and is in a coma. It so happens that Benigno is looking after another woman in a coma, Alicia, a young ballet student. The lives of the four characters will flow in all directions, past, present and future, dragging all of them towards an unsuspected destiny. Written by
The end credits contain the following text: "El 7 de agosto, durante el rodaje de esta película nació Pablo hijo de Cova y de Juan y niño de todos.". This translates to: "On August 7th, while shooting this movie, Pablo, son of Cova and Juan and child of all of us, was born." See more »
Benigno and Marco are both lonely men, Marco because his lover, a woman bullfighter, is in a coma, Benigno, a thirty-year old virgin Momma's boy, from habit. Both are in love, too (Benigno, a male nurse at the clinic, slavishly tends Alicia, a comatose accident victim, for a living). It is he who gives Marco, with whom he strikes up a friendship, the eponymous advice: talk, and your heartfelt monologue will be more meaningful and therapeutic than any marital dialogue.
Seeing Almodóvar's latest film was one of the most pleasurable cinema experiences I have had for some time. He has over the years amassed the technical skill and maturity to put across quite complex stories in a deceptively simple language. From the shock tactics and punk aesthetics of Pepi, Luci, Bom, y otras chicas del montón (1980), to the Oscar-winning melodrama of All About My Mother (1999), he had already come a long way. Here, finally, was an interweaving of the lives of disparate characters that was not only unabashed in its excess (it always had been), it actually made you care deeply.
At first sight Hable con ella looks like being another case study in that famously offbeat, not to say queer, book of life according to Pedro. Almodóvar's scenarios have been no strangers to sex, drugs, and heartrending canción (a particular brand of overwrought singing which knows no real Anglo-Saxon equivalent). In Hable con ella we have bullfighting, a theme he used as an excuse for kinky sex in Matador, given a contemporary treatment in the person of 'torera', Lydia (female bullfighters are indeed beginning to compete in a man's profession). Here too we have the apparently off-the-wall and by now notorious scene from the film-within-the-film, El Amante Minguante, in which a shrunken hero takes refuge in his lover's vagina for protection. But neither is gratuitous gesture: Lydia is designed to counterpoint Marco's almost feminine sensitivity, and the latter sequence, far from being there to shock, is a metaphor to spare us a far more harrowing, and morally problematic, plot truth. The ability to turn kitsch into art is increasingly one of Almodóvar's defining features.
While he often refers to other artforms in his films (reality TV in Kika, Ruth Rendell in Live Flesh, canción in High Heels), since All About My Mother the technique has become more assured. Where that film was a paean to female suffering, via All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire, in Hable con ella we have two men sharing a tear over a performance by the dancer Pina Bausch. Other references are the Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso, who sings at a party attended by (uncredited) Cecilia Roth and Marisa Paredes (from Mother), and Michael Cunningham, whose novel The Hours similarly has a tripartite structure where each section deepens and sheds light on the others ('tunnels in caves'). In other words the post-modernist borrowing is rendered invisible by being absorbed into the drama: it is not post-modern any more.
Almodóvar's choice to make a film about the loneliness and longing of men is a courageous one for a very private celebrity, a gamble to follow what might have been the peak of his career, and one which whets our appetite for what is to come.
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