Hable con ella (Talk to Her, 2002)
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Written by Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Rosario Flores, Javier Cámara, Darío Grandinetti
BY BEATRIZ CABALLERO RODRÍGUEZ
Gender shifts in Almodóvar’s Hable con ella (Talk to her, 2002)
Winner of an Oscar to the best screenplay, Hable con ella (Talk to her, 2002) constitutes a significant shift in Pedro Almodóvar’s prolific cinematic career. In contrast with his previous films, where women always took centre stage, this time the protagonists are men.
The film revolves around several parallel and intertwined plot lines which the viewer sees unfold through the eyes of Benigno (Javier Cámara) and Marco (Darío Grandinetti). Through a series of flashbacks, we witness the development of Benigno’s obsesive relationship towards Alicia (Leonor Watling), followed by the story of how Marco and Lydia (Rosario Flores) fall in and out of love. Benigno, who had been infatuated with Alicia –a ballet student– from afar, becomes her nurse after she enters into a comma as a result of a traffic accident. On the other hand, Marco and Lydia start a relationship soon after Marco, a journalist, decides interviewing her, a controversial bullfighter. However, their romance is cut short when she is gored by a bull and also falls into a state of comma. As fate will have it, Alicia and Lydia end up in the same hospital, which is where Benigno and Marco meet and befriend each other.
All throughout, Almodóvar remains consistent with his refusal to box his characters into rigid and normative notions of gender and identity. Instead, the film suggests a fluid approach to gender identity by crossing long-established gender boundaries dictated by profession (Benigno is a male-nurse, while Lydia is a woman-bullfighter) and by means of the deliberate cultivation of sexual ambiguity (ie. Benigno lies about his sexuality, whereas Lydia frequently exhibits traits traditional associated with a stereotypical understanding of manhood, such as bravery, strength, and independence). All in all, once again, he succeeds in challenging canonical conceptions of gender.
Although the plot is still full of dramatic twists and turns, Almodóvar moves from the hectic, loud and kitsch aesthetics of his earlier work to a more restrained, gentler, and largely visual narrative often represented through various performances which include dance, bullfighting, and silent cinema. In fact, this is a film marked by traumatic silences pregnant with meaning. While men talk, women’s stories, far from being relegated, are told through visual language, hence the narrative importance performances acquire in this motion picture.
Hable con ella, like some of Almodóvar’s earlier films like Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, is all about communication (or lack thereof). However, its approach to gender is markedly different to the point that constitutes a turning point in this director’s career consolidating his reputation as the most international Spanish film-maker, not least because this film earned him his second Oscar. In short, Hable con ella is unmissable for anyone with an interest in contemporary Spanish films.
Hable con ella – Trailer
*Image courtesy of El Deseo http://www.eldeseo.es/hable-con-ella/
Beatriz Caballero Rodríguez is a senior lecturer at the University of Strathclyde. She is interested in film from the perspective of Spanish Cultural Studies. Her research also includes History of Ideas, Spanish exile, Gender and Trauma Studies.