Talk to Her (2002)
Starring Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti, Rosaria Flores, Leonor Watling, Geraldine Chaplin
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Screenplay by Pedro Almodóvar
Sony Pictures Classics
Love is a mysterious dance of female protagonists and male attendants--or at least it is in "Talk to Her," Almodóvar's ambiguous tale of comatose women and the men who care for them. This complex film explores the nature of the lover and the beloved through a vast, intersecting array of other oppositions, including science, faith and art, talking, listening and doing, creating, procreating and destroying--to name just a few. The movie is not unsentimental, and a few of its implications are troubling. But it is also clever, moving, well directed and acted, and very ambitious. Almodovar received an Oscar for the screenplay and a nomination for his direction.
Cutting back and forth in time, "Talk to Her" reveals its focus on two romances. The somewhat warped but apparently benign Benigno (Javier Camara) has spent most of his life caring for his recently deceased mother, leaving home only to attend nursing classes. Though seen as sexually ambiguous, he becomes obsessed with the ballet student Alicia (Leonor Watling) whose dance studio he watches from his apartment. When she is hit by a vehicle and falls into a coma, she is brought to the rehab facility where he works. Benigno nurses her body and soul. He talks to her as if she were conscious, pursues her passions as his own and tells her what he has seen, and oversees every aspect of her care, including visits from her ballet master Katerina (Geraldine Chaplin), whose arty pronouncements--like the film's Pina Bausch ballets--underline its paradoxical themes. Meanwhile, sensitive travel journalist Marco (Dario Grandinetti) meets bullfighter Lydia (Rosaria Flores), who has been dogged by press inquiries into her broken romance with another bullfighter (Rodolfo Fernandez). Marco overcomes Lydia's initial resistance, partly by rescuing her from a situation that you might not expect to trouble a bullfighter, and they become lovers. But when she is gored in the ring and rendered comatose--shortly after a conversation in which Marco talked and she was unable to say something she was eager to--she lands in the same clinic as Alicia. There, Benigno befriends Marco, encouraging him to talk to Lydia as he does to Alicia. Almodóvar twists the relationships into new shapes, leading finally to an unexpected third pairing.
Benigno is skilled, talkative, and a little unsettling. A master of hands-on care, including massage and cosmetics, he protects Alicia according to his view of what is best. He also seems willing to sacrifice everything for her, though it's not clear how devoted he would be if he was not in love, and we never see him nurse any other patient. Benigno's psychic connection with Alicia seems either delusional or supernatural. One apparent act of his is a paradox of hurting and healing that drives the latter part of the story. Depending on how this act is interpreted, Benigno may be seen as a predator, a savior, or both. The clinic seems to serve those with the funds to hire private duty nurses to provide total care for patients in persistent vegetative states. Unlike Benigno, the other nurses there seem unremarkable. They do their jobs, gossip, and cope with ordinary problems. It is not clear that they are acting autonomously according to a scientific nursing process. Indeed, the implication is that someone who needs authoritative technical information must see a physician. We do see the unflashy but vital things nurses do in caring for broken humans, something that is rarely shown. The film suggests that this is important work requiring a generous spirit and manual skill. Unlike most American television, it does not pretend that inpatients' main relationships are with physicians; they barely appear. But given the limited vision of nursing here, and the ambiguous actions of Benigno, the film's overall treatment of the profession is a mixed one.
Reviewed by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Reviewed January 30, 2003
The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.