A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002)

Pedro Almodóvar won a well-deserved Oscar for his screenplay -- an award that's rarely given to someone writing in a language other than English -- and was nominated for best director for Talk to Her. It's an extraordinarily challenging film -- even for Almodóvar, who loves to challenge filmgoers -- that works on several levels. First, it's an absorbing narrative about the boundaries between life and death: The protagonists, Benigno Martín (Javier Cámara) and Marco Zuluaga (Darío Grandinetti), are both in love with women who are in comas, unresponsive but undeniably still present, trapped between life and death. Second, it's a film about the boundaries between the sexes. At least two of the characters have jobs that are traditionally held by members of the opposite sex: Benigno is a nurse, and Lydia González  (Rosario Flores) is a bullfighter, and each has encountered the stereotyping that labels them as anomalous. Benigno is easily stereotyped as gay: He studied nursing, cosmetology, and hairdressing so he could take care of his mother, with whom he lived until her death. And he is trusted with the intimate care of the beautiful, comatose Alicia (Leonor Watling) because he is thought to have no sexual interest in her. But even Marco has "feminine" characteristics: He cries easily, for one thing. In the first scene of the film, he is seen sitting next to Benigno at a performance of Pina Bausch's Tanztheater piece, Café Müller, with tears rolling down his face. Benigno, who doesn't yet know Marco, is moved but dry-eyed, and he recalls Marco's  tears later when he tells his fellow employees about the performance. Benigno and Marco finally meet after Lydia is gored by a bull and left in a coma. She is hospitalized just down the hall from Alicia, and Benigno advises Marco to talk to Lydia -- advice he scorns because he's been told that she's brain-dead. Benigno, on the other hand, believes that Alicia listens to him and even mysteriously consoles him: He knows from an encounter with her before the accident that left her comatose that she was a dancer who loved traveling and silent movies, so he tells her about dance performances he attends, reads to her from travel guides, and describes the movies he sees. One of the movies is called The Shrinking Lover, and Almodóvar creates it for us: A female scientist (another gender-role switch) creates a potion that causes her lover to shrink, and in a final, Buñuelesque scene, we see the tiny lover's body disappear into her enormous vagina. Shortly thereafter, Alicia is found to be pregnant, and although it's never confirmed that Benigno raped her, he is sent to prison. The extraordinary thing about Talk to Her is that Almodóvar manages to keep all of the elements of his film in a delicate balance, so that even the absurd and surreal moments maintain plausibility, and the bittersweet ending feels integral to what has gone before. The tone of the film is lightly melancholy where it might have been crude and sensational, and it's maintained by a lovely score by Alberto Iglesias and a beautiful sequence in which Caetano Veloso sings "Cucurrucucú Paloma," about a man weeping for his lost lover, as a tearful Marco recalls his love for Lydia. The excellent performers also include Geraldine Chaplin as Alicia's dance teacher.

 

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