In the classic 1967 prison film, "Cool Hand Luke," there's the memorable and oft-repeated line, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." That, of course, was about a prison guard/inmate "relationship," but it applies to most any human pairing, particularly romantic ones.
In fact, lack of communication is usually the downfall of most any relationship. Imagine the difficulty, then, in trying to carry on such a discourse where one half of the pairing doesn't participate at all, mainly because they're comatose. That's just one of many communication metaphors at play in director Pedro Almodóvar's superb and appropriately entitled "Hable Con Ella" or "Talk To Her."
Somewhat analogous to the incarceration in that Paul Newman film, most of the characters here are imprisoned, in one way or another, from communication or their partner. Two - played by Rosario Flores ("Chatarra," "Contra el Viento") and Leonor Watling ("Deseo, "Son de Mar") spend most of their time onscreen in comas. That leaves their various suitors -- Javier Cámara ("Sex and Lucia," "Torrente 2: Misión en Marbella"), Darío Grandinetti ("Operación Fangio," "El Amateur") and Adolfo Fernández ("Kasbah," "El Arte de Morir") - unable to carry on a two-way conversation with them and/or imprisoned by their inability to come to grips with that.
Unlike many of Almodóvar's previous works - such as "All About My Mother" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" -- that favored or focused on the ladies, this one primarily features the men. The filmmaker doesn't slip any with the gender switch and the male characters are both terrifically drawn and portrayed. I'm not sure why much of Hollywood is incapable of creating such real yet engaging characters when foreign films seem to do so with ease, but that's certainly the case once again with this effort.
While Benigno and Marco might not be exactly likable, they're certainly mesmerizing to behold, and that's without any undue flash or manipulation on the part of Cámara, Grandinetti or Almodóvar. The pain and frustration they experience is palpable as well.
By repeatedly alternating between the past and present, Almodóvar shows us how the characters came to meet and fall for the women in their lives. We then get to see how they deal and have dealt with the tragedy that's befallen them.
Benigno doesn't see it that way at all, and optimistically loves the woman ever deeper day after day, despite her never really knowing him, particularly in a romantic sense. His love for her - while disturbing in the depths to which is sinks - ultimately turns out to be liberating in a sense for both parties, although probably not in a way many viewers will be expecting.
Marco, on the other hand, had problems communicating with his bullfighter girlfriends when she is conscious, and her bull-goring induced coma certainly hasn't helped matters. He refuses to talk to Lydia in her current state, unlike Benigno who carries on like he's in a normal relationship and even sets up something of an unusual double date in one of the film's funnier moments.
The performances from both actors are terrific while the contrasty effect between their characters is equally enlightening, captivating and disturbing. To complement them, Almodóvar has loaded the film from start to finish with various metaphors dealing with communication or the lack thereof. Rather than hammering the viewer over the head with them, however, the filmmaker allows them to flow around and emanate from the main plot in a natural and unforced fashion.
It's a masterful touch and the film consequentially has one layer under the next, all waiting to be discovered by the viewer in the initial viewing or afterwards while reflecting upon everything that was so brilliantly staged and executed.
While not for all viewers due to some disturbing and/or graphic (but also occasionally funny) material, this is the work of a filmmaker at the top of his game. With levels of theme and symbolism unfolding as the story progresses and jumps around through time, this is an art house aficionados dream come true. Compelling, engaging and thought-provoking, with superb work in front of and behind the camera, "Talk to Her" rates as an 8 out of 10.