Talk to Her is an interesting character study of four people, two of whom are in comas.
The other two are men who love the women in the comas. The appeal of someone in a coma is lost on me, which is why I've never appreciated Kevin Costner's acting, but for Benigno (Javier Cámara) and Marco (Dario Grandinetti), love means never having to say "I'm conscious."
Benigno and Marco first encounter each other at a dance performance where the younger Benigno notices the handsomer Marco weeping. Impressed by this show of emotion from a man, Benigno tells his only friend about it.
Sadly, his only friend is the comatose Alicia, with whom he is in love. On the plus side, since Benigno is Castilian, we get to hear him say "Alithia." On the minus side, Alicia can't quite return Benigno's lisping love.
Meanwhile, Marco meets and falls in love with Lydia (Rosario Flores), who is Spain's leading female bullfighter.
Two things should be noted here: Animals were hurt in the making of this film, and Lydia is the classic Pedro Almodovar lead female.
I have to admit that I didn't like Almodovar's previous work much. He's made a career out of taking seemingly homely women and making them alluring by presenting them as powerful. If nothing else, his skill at this shows that he should be taken seriously as an artist, because that kind of manipulation and alteration of expected values is what aestheticists throughout the ages have called "ginchy."
While not abandoning this trick in Talk to Her, Almodovar moves away from the sillier and kitschier aspects of his early films, which is for the best, since he didn't handle those particular colors with anything like the aplomb of John Waters, to whom he was often compared.
Unlike Waters, though, Almodovar always had a sense of genuine human emotion lurking under his weirdness, and in Talk to Her, he really comes into his own in exploring this. In fact, this film falls into that rarest of genres: the men's film.
The leading genre of films in theaters is the boys' film, like Spiderman or xXx or any of the movies where something is more likely to explode in vibrant colors than evoke a painful memory.
The second most common genre is the "chick flick," or romantic weepy.
Neither are exactly designed for adult peoples, which is why the term "women's film" is no longer commonly used. Thus, the men's film: a film about grown-up men who have grown-up feelings and very little time for putting on a cape and avenging the deaths of innocents.
Talk to Her is especially focused on the feelings of the men-folk, what with the women-folk being all comatose and such. Thus, much of the film involves that most dreaded of adult activities: talking about feelings.
When Benigno and Marco meet again, it is in the hospital after Lydia has been trampled by a bull. Frankly, seeing as she was trying to kill the bull in the first place, she probably deserved it, but still, Marco is not one to take the bull's side in this sort of thing, and thus he gets a little blue.
Benigno, meanwhile, is across the hall leading the creepiest life ever. Years earlier, he had fallen in love with Alicia after seeing her through his window. He followed her and tried to befriend her, but he was so creepy it didn't quite work out. Luckily for him, she was hit by a car the next week and he became the nurse in charge of caring for her unconscious form.
He and Marco strike up a friendship based on their mutual love of people who are on life support, which is not the standard formula for a buddy-movie friendship, but it seems to work here. At first, Benigno seems like the more emotionally capable one, in that he talks so freely about what's on his mind. This makes him seem gay, and everyone around him thinks he's gay, because, after all, real men don't talk about how they feel, they just bottle it up inside until they die of an aneurysm.
Marco takes this latter route, but Benigno coaxes some emotion out of him, and Marco grows by this relationship, which makes this an actual film about a man helping another man with his feelings. It's a chick flick for men! Or at least it's a chick flick about men. I imagine it will appeal more to female viewers, but then I imagine that the United States is a democracy, so I have a lot of crazy ideas.
While Talk to Her is a bit slow in building, it's worth sitting through as the final third is excellent. I don't want to give anything away, except to note that there are scenes of a 6-inch tall man crawling across the body of a normal-sized woman, so if you're into that sort of thing you should definitely not miss this film.
You also shouldn't miss it if you want to see some fine acting and a really adult look at damaged human emotions. Darío Grandinetti is especially good as Marco, a role that requires a great deal of range and subtlety. Grandinetti is probably Argentina's most famous actor, which means no one in the United States has heard of him, but after this, I could well imagine that he'll be the next guy seen dumping Britney Spears.
This is probably Almodovar's best film, and shows a maturity that could indicate even better things are coming from him. Sad, occasionally difficult and ultimately rewarding, it's a movie that doesn't insult your emotional intelligence.