Pedro Almodovar has directed a couple dozen films in his native Spain, but the two most familiar to American viewers are “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” (1990) and “All About My Mother” (1999). The latter won the Oscar for best foreign-language film, but it’s the former — about bondage — that is closest in spirit to AlmodÃ³var’s latest effort, “Talk to Her,” a rumination on love that becomes more twisted as it goes.
It seems benign to begin with, albeit non-traditional. Benigno (Javier CÃ¡mara) is a nurse whose primary concern is Alicia (Leonor Watling), a pretty young woman who has been in a coma for four years. Benigno is dedicated and professional, caring for Alicia as if she were awake and could appreciate it. He talks to her, takes her on the hospital balcony for fresh air, and tries to preserve her dignity: In an early scene, he makes sure she is not exposed when he and another nurse change her bedclothes.
Meanwhile, there is Marco (DarÃo Grandinetti), a magazine writer pursuing as a subject (and perhaps as a love interest) Lydia (Rosario Flores), a lady bullfighter. Soon, however, she is in a coma, too, and Marco and Benigno — who encountered each other briefly at the theater some months ago — have occasion to be introduced formally.
With our heroines in comas, much of the story is told in flashbacks. We see the twists and turns of Marco and Lydia’s relationship, and learn the origin and full extent of Benigno’s devotion to Alicia.
Benigno, who looks innocent and perhaps even mildly retarded, insists to Marco that speaking to a coma patient is not fruitless. “A woman’s brain is a mystery, and in this state, even more so,” he says, recalling “All About My Mother,” which also sought to plumb the depths of the female mind (though those females tended to be conscious).
Though “Talk to Her” is about communication at first, it slowly becomes a story of loneliness and desperation, of devastating sadness that some people will do anything to avoid. There is a jaw-droppingly outrageous black-and-white sequence — Benigno’s account of a sexually explicit silent film he watched — that is the turning point for “Talk to Her,” the moment when it becomes fundamentally bizarre. And yet it remains sweet in its way, playful and creative in the way it examines our relationships, making the point that ALL human interaction is at least a little bit strange.
B+ (1 hr., 53 min.; Spanish with English subtitles; )