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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Talk to Her
Girl in coma in

The latest cornucopia of sex, love and death in Pedro Almodovar's new film "Talk to Her"

This one fascinates our critics.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

Rosie, the most unsettling of subjects, handled in quite an extraordinary way, did it work?

I thought it was one of the best films I've seen in I just can't remember how long. When I finished watching it, I wanted to watch it all over again. There is so much to talk about in this film, it's hard to know to where to begin.

Let's jump right in with the bit that's really about the taboo, the relationship between Benigno, who is this young man who has looked after his mother, he knows nothing about women, and he is sort of educationally subnormal.

He has spent 20 years looking after his mother and being a nurse. He has taken a correspondence course in doing manicures. He is endearing and sweet, and full of nothing but love.

His mother dies, he becomes entranced by a dancer who he can see out of his window, who's called Alicia. Alicia falls into a coma and he takes over as her nurse.

Then Almodovar does this quite wonderful thing. He introduces into it a little short silent film, in which the woman makes this little shrinking man. He climbs inside his lover's vagina, because he is now so tiny, and because this is his sign of love.

This is how he tell us about what is later described as a rape. But, the word "rape" is very contentious in this, because although the doctors use it, I wouldn't describe what Benigno did as rape, because it seems to me he carried out an act of love.

Slightly unusually, we have to give a little bit of the plot away, because it's so central essential to his story.

It doesn't ruin the film though.

No, it doesn't ruin the film, but also, is he charting new territory here? All About My Mother was heading in this direction. Very similar themes, similar scenes appear. Do you think it's a much darker Almodovar?

I think it's very much a companion piece for All About My Mother. Both are very different from the rest of his work. I have to admit that I'm not an unmitigated Almodovar fan. I found this kind of kitschness and delirious colours of his earlier films rather off-putting.

What I like about this is he has kept his iconoclasm by turning conventions on their head. I found the rape thing much, much more problematical. What he is saying is that if you say that rape is about physical and psychological trauma, then has somebody who is in a persistent vegetative state, and therefore not be able to feel those traumas, not been raped?

But she was in a coma, not a PSV, it was the other casualty that was in PSV. She was definitely going to die, whereas this one was in a coma.

Who might come back.

Yes, that was the difference.

But nonetheless not able to feel anything, and not able to sustain any psychological trauma. What it also seems to be saying is that in certain extreme circumstances rape can be beneficial for the victim and disastrous for the perpetrator, which I think is actually turning the convention on its head. I find that quite difficult to deal with.

Rape, essentially, is an act of violence. What Benigno does to Alicia is an act of love. That's what is so incredibly subtle about this film.

Paul Morley, it's also shot through with an extraordinary amount of black humour which works, despite the uncomfortable subject matter?

He has taken a series of many risks to tell a variety of love stories.

It's very dangerous, because whether this is a rape or not, the character is still portrayed as quite a seedy pervert, and then forms a rather wonderful love relationship with Marco, the main character, early 40s, mysterious Argentinian travel writer.

That's a fascinating thing that he does, that this guy who may have committed this rape, he still has a best friend. That is a kind of dangerous thing to do. Almodovar is constantly doing this.

He's doing dangerous things all of the way through. It's interesting how beautifully structured it is as a film, but everything seems to come out of nowhere. These are not sixth sense surprises, these are great, true surprises.

What do you think of the whole pacing and imagery, you talked about the fact that you think that he can be accused of being a kitsch director before.

The colours are bright in this, but what I thought was extraordinary was that in a single frame, you can create such beautiful imagery with a piece of wallpaper? He does that so well.

The main film is a work of art. What he does that is almost the most audacious thing is that he creates another work of art within it, another film within it that is a work of art, a black and white silent movie.

Let's look at that film.

Which is the metaphor for the thing that we can't really talk about that is so amazingly handled.

(2nd CLIP is shown)

Rosie, as well as the girl in a coma, who is the subject of the longing by the nurse, and the caressing and the caring treatment, there is the other coma victim who is the PSV victim, who is a bullfighter. Of course, there's been real trouble in Spain about showing bullfighting scenes. Tell me about her character, she is so precise.

I find her completely electric. I thought that the bullfighter scenes, which normally I find quite shocking and awful, were quite beautifully filmed and somehow didn't seem so shocking and awful.

There is one scene when she is being dressed in her kit to go out into the ring to fight, and it's the most sexy scene. She has this extraordinary body, and they are kind of pinning her into these wonderful clothes.

They are hooking her in, using a hook to make the buttons work, and it's all done very slowly and precisely. She is in the middle of a tremendous emotional dilemma by this point, because the man she has been in love with, who has left her is in the audience. She is then with Marco, the troubled travel writer.

The one curiosity I had about the film was when she goes into the ring, and she is kneeling with her cape in front of her, and she sort of lets the bull come straight at her. It's almost as though, is she asking the bull to decide what she is meant to do? I couldn't work that out.

In fact, that is one of the areas of uncertainty, whereas Almodovar does lead you through, and you sort of know what is going to happen next? But it doesn't spoil it for you.

It's almost like you predict, in a dreadful Hollywood sense, "I know what's going to happen next", and it never does.

It sometimes does.

Even if it does, it's still surprising, though.

You slightly predict a disaster coming, don't you, but quite what it's going to be you're not sure.

I think what's impressive about it is not whether you can predict what is coming or not coming, but how he takes all of these things and takes our expectations and pulls them in a different direction. In terms of structure, the film is incredibly sophisticated. It begins and ends with two Pina Bausch dance pieces.

The last one is quite extraordinary.

Gorgeous, and in both instances you have two people in the audience whose lives are going to intertwine, and they're going to be irrevocably mixed with each other, but don't know it yet.

It starts in one place and brings us back to the point of departure. In between, he fillets the time up, but there is never a sense of jerky motion. It's all fluid and beautiful.

This is why it doesn't matter if you give the story away, because as it's a great piece of art, you'll be able to look at this in many, many different ways, and many, many times.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | Panel
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