Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
This weekend brings the Seattle release of the latest Pedro Almodovar film, Pain and Glory, a splendidly-modulated work that begs to be considered the Spanish director’s 8 ½. Now 70, Almodovar is standing at the far edge of a remarkable career that has never been easy to predict, or even, sometimes, to describe. I’ve liked some of Almodovar’s films unreservedly, and others without knowing quite what they were about.
Whatever his many influences—being a gay kid from a small town, participating in underground magazines and theater, growing up in the shadow of Catholicism and Franco—I can never quite forget one fascinating aspect from his biography, which is that he worked for twelve years at the phone company in Madrid while he was beginning as an artist. Twelve years. I think every filmmaker ought to work in an office job, if not for twelve years. There’s something of the tension between the mundane and the flamboyant that sits inside every Almodovar picture.
Scarecrow Video has the filmmaker’s oeuvre on its shelves, of course. My review of Pain and Glory is here: https://www.heraldnet.com/life/pedro-almodovar-takes-stock-of-himself-in-pain-and-glory/
Going back a little farther, here are my thoughts on Almodovar’s 2002 film Talk to Her, one of his significant international hits.
Talk To Her
A movie that uses a man talking to a comatose woman as its central plot device probably sounds like a long night. But this is the world of Pedro Almodovar we’re entering, and Talk to Her is a typically surprising work.
The Spanish director has enjoyed international acclaim at least since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and his previous film, All About My Mother, was one of his most honored. Those honors included the Oscar for foreign-language film. In Talk to Her, the comatose woman is Alicia (Leonor Watling), and the man talking to her is her nurse, Benigno (Javier Camara). He isn’t just a hospital nurse; he was actually fascinated by Alicia before the accident that put her into a coma. But at that time, he mostly worshipped her from afar.
He is of indeterminate sexuality and he’s definitely a virgin. His feelings for Alicia are all mixed up with his feelings for his late mother, for whom he cared devotedly during a long illness. For now, he seems content to bathe Alicia every day and tell her stories about the movies he’s seen (on the chance that she may be able to hear the world around her).
Another accident brings these two into proximity with Marco (Dario Grandinetti), a melancholy writer of travel guides, and Lydia (Rosario Flores). She is a member of a minority group: a female bullfighter.
As is the custom with Almodovar, the different strands of people’s lives are woven together in intricate ways. The innocent Benigno and the worldly Marco would seem to have nothing in common, but they develop a friendship in the rooms and hallways of the hospital.
Plus, Almodovar throws in whatever strikes his fancy. The melodramatic performances of Pina Bausch’s dance troupe are occasionally touched on, as though holding a mirror to the story.
In the middle of this intrigue, at a crucial moment, Benigno attends a silent movie. We see a series of outrageous scenes from this film (created by Almodovar), Shrinking Lover, which looks like a sexually explicit variation on The Incredible Shrinking Man. This sequence could make Freud re-write a couple of case studies.
Along with the sexual stumblings and kitschy colors we expect from Almodovar, Talk to Her has a gentle touch. People have always acclaimed Almodovar as some kind of cutting-edge director, but he’s got a streak of sentimentality, and it gets bigger as the years go by. Talk to Her is a case study in blending perversity with tenderness.
Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.