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Hable con ella

March 13, 2016

Hable con ella (Talk to Her)
Pedro Almodóvar (2002)
Wellington City Gallery
March 13, 2016

The third and final ‘Pina’ film. Which is sad because I’ve really enjoyed them all, but also great because next week I get to see her work for real live on stage!

So fittingly this film opens with a performance by Pina herself of Café Müller which is to be the first half of next week’s show! Watching this performance are the two men who are to be dragged together by the intricate and unstoppable fate that Almodóvar gives them.

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Turns out one is an awkward nurse caring for this woman in a coma. Watching him work with his fellow nurse dressing, undressing, massaging, washing the woman there is a fine balance between what a boring monotonous and probably ultimately thankless job these two are doing and the creepy sexualisation that appears to be implied in some of his not exactly worklike manner.

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The other man is a much more seasoned guy (he’s a travel writer, he’s, you know, ‘been around, eh?’) who is rather morose in his own situation. He ends up meeting a bull fighter who is, again, trapped in a somewhat obsessive love/hate on/off situation with another matador who was her fighting partner for a while.

You can probably guess how she ends up in a coma too, and in the same hospital as the other girl, and so these mirrors all become one and the two men begin comparing their situations. The rest of the plot is probably a bit too spoilery to want to share.

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So as the nurse’s somewhat creepiness is explored, and the lovesickness of them both for their comatose objects of desire discussed between them, there’s a beautiful fracturing of the two stories – fate has brought them together, and via the ordering of events and flashbacks there’s a certain point where you kind of think that they are both in almost the exact same predicament, and perhaps they’ll work together somehow to support each other.

But then as the clockwork of the plot unwinds it becomes clear that they are both so different in personality and the reasons for them being attached to each of these unmoving women make their relationships very distinct. It’s quite magical actually the deftness of the structure of the film to create this effect.

There are numerous other suggestions and hints at equivalences and differences, and similarities to both Psycho and Rear Window. This turns out to be a pretty strikingly apt duo of films in many ways, especially in the way our mannerisms and obsessions come across to others, and the moral grey areas of investigating just a little more than one really should and crossing those lines between justified concern and unjustified infatuation.

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In another nice bit of symmetry/reference there is a silent film embedded within this one (as there was at the start of E la nave va. And again like that film there a mixture of the ridiculous and stupidly over the top and the sudden jolt of emotional resonance and symbolism that you can’t quite understand except by intuition.

The plot is a bit too perfect to believe, and there is an overall sense of hyper-real exaggeration. Another reference point that came to mind was Cronenberg, particularly in a film like (twins again!) Dead Ringers where the plot and situation is not realistic but there is a sense of a deeper revelation of human nature that arises from it.

The two main guys do a fantastic job without being showy or flashy at all, which work well. The travel writer’s character is damaged and wary of love, but in a much more complex and quietly unpredictable and volatile way. He breaks into tears at various points and is kind of sympathetic, yet there is still something slightly opportunistic, reckless and questionable about his actions at times that made me very reluctant to feel a lot of trust for him and hence didn’t exactly want to root for things to turn out well. So while the ending is kind of happy, it’s full of a deep unease with the chain of events that’s led to it and whether it is really ‘OK’ for this to be happening.

I stepped out of the theatre and really needed an hour or two to absorb the intensity of this film and the way the plot, on the surface preposterous, was used to surface all kinds of heavy questions and reminiscences on life and the decisions we make and what we are allowed and not allowed to get away with.

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