Talk to Her: Interview with Oscar Winner Almodovar

A women’s director

Early on, Almodovar established a reputation as one of the best directors of actresses, but in “Talk to Her,” he has coaxed fantastic performances from his two lead actors, Javier Cmara and Daro Grandinetti, playing very complicated roles.

Contrary to popular perception, “Talk to Her is not Almodovar’s first film with male leads. As he explains: Live Flesh is a testicular story. Matador and Law of Desire were also stories in which men determined the action. In Law of Desire even the girl (Carmen Maura) was a man.

Actresses Vs. Actors

A: When theyre wonderful and can make me forget that Im the director and the writer, I enjoy both actor and actresses equally very much. Over the course of fourteen features I admit that Ive found more good actresses than good actors, but its also true that Ive written more female roles than male or neuter roles.

Comedy Vs. Tragedy

In the field of writing, and as a general rule, I believe that women inspire me to write comedies, and men, tragedies. The scripts done come out easily, but Im going to force perhaps more comedies. But, with the exception of documentaries and biographic films, you can’t force the tone of a film.

Genre of Talk to Her

I dont know what genre it is. All I know is that it isnt a western, or a film about CIA agents. Nor is it a James Bond film or a period piece.

Period elements

“Talk to Her” actually has seven minutes, to be precise, of period, which take place in 1924. Those seven minutes give rise to a lot of talk, even though theyre silent. In the middle of the film, the nurse, Benigno (Javier Cmara) uses one of his few free nights to go to the Cinematheque to see a silent Spanish film: Amante Menguante (Shrinking Lover). I show about seven minutes of that film.

Risk of interrupting narrative

The period subplot is not a flashback; its a separate story, and its risky, very risky. Now that Ive finished the film, I am not afraid that the spectator will lose his concentration or get confused, but while I was filming, I was terrified. I couldnt sleep until I had the two stories edited together.

Spoken cinema

The part that runs from when Javier goes to the Cinematheque until he finishes telling the film to the recumbent, remote Alicia (about ten minutes running time) is one of my favorites.

Reason for detour

It only seems like a detour, because the nurses story doesnt actually stop during those seven minutes, rather it overlaps and merges with that of Shrinking Lover. The original reason (when I was writing) was so that I could use the silent film as a front to hide out what’s really happening in Alicias room. I dont want to show it to the spectator, so I invented Shrinking Lover as a kind of blindfold. The spectator will discover what has happened at the same time as the other characters. Its a secret that Id like no one to reveal.

On manipulation

Its a narrative option, and not exactly a simple one. Thats why Im so proud of the result.

Characters explaining themselves through film

I did the same in High Heels. ” Victoria Abril shouted a scene from Autumn Sonata at her mother, Marisa Paredes, in order to explain the love and hate that she felt for her, a love and hate so great theyd even driven her to kill.

In Matador, the protagonists hurry into a cinema (shes running away from him) where they are showing Duel In The Sun. On the screen, they can see what their own end will be.

In Live Flesh, while Liberto Rabal and Francesca Neri are fighting, the television is showing Buuels Rehearsal For a Crime (aka The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz). Buuels film could well provide the
title for this section of Live Flesh. And its images anticipate two elements which will later appear in my film, a legless man (after this scene Javier Bardems character ends up in a wheelchair, in The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz it was a dummy which had its leg removed) and the fire which would trap Angela Molinas character when Liberto breaks off with her (in The Criminal Life, it was the oven in which Archibaldo de la
Cruz was burning a dummy identical to the character played by Miroslava.
By coincidence, years later, the actress really did die in a burning car).

Films as experience

For me, the films I see become part of my own experiences, and I use them as such. Theres no intention of paying homage to their directors or of imitating them. Theyre elements that are absorbed into the script and become part of it. Telling films is something that has to do with my biography. And Im not talking about a film forum or the typical discussion about cinema (I hate those).

I remember that when I was little I would tell films to my sisters, films that wed seen together. Id get carried away by the memory, and while I was telling them Id reinvent them. Really, I was making my own adaptation, and my sisters preferred my inaccurate, delirious versions to the original film. I remember that during those hours when time slowed down (sitting in the patio while they sewed, or gathered around the table with the brazier underneath), they would say: ‘Pedro, tell us the film we saw yesterday…I dont tell films anymore, Ive lost that skill and I only talk about them when Im forced to do so in interviews.

Words and loneliness

When the psychiatrist asks Javier Cmaras character what his problem is, he replies: Loneliness, I guess. Marco (Daro Grandinetti) also tells the two women in the film on two very different occasions that hes lonely. In both cases, neither Benigno nor Marco gets melodramatic about it, theyre simply stating a fact. Loneliness is something which all the characters in
the films have in common. Alicia and Lydia are lonely too. And Katerina, the ballet mistress.

And Alicias father, although its likely that after a while hell have an affair with the receptionist in his consultancy. And the nurse played by Mariola Fuentes, secretly in love with her fellow worker Benigno. And the housekeeper in Benignos building. Even the only unpleasant character, the despicable interviewer played by Loles Len, ends up alone on the set, talking to the camera because Lydia (quite rightly) has stormed off in the
middle of the interview. And the bull is left alone in the huge ring when Lydia is taken to the infirmary, fatally injured. Loneliness, I guess is another possible title for this film.

Talking to myself

A few months ago, I caught myself doing it on several days. I did it either in the morning, when Id just got up, or at night. (Ive been told that Buuel also talked to himself in the morning, to check on how his deafness was progressing). I was doing it to check the sound and power of my voice. I lost my voice during the shoot and for a few weeks when I got up after the long nocturnal silence, Id talk to myself in bed or in front of the mirror. ‘Hows my voice today’ Id ask myself. ‘Much better. If I dont force it, I may make it through to the evening. Ive always believed in words, even when youve got no voice, or no one to talk to.

Message of Talk to Her

As in any film, the message is Go see it; then, in a subliminal way, and tell your friends about it.

Privacy and spectacle

Talk to Her tells a private, romantic, secret story, peppered with independent, spectacular units. Im referring, as well as to the bull fights and the inclusion of Shrinking Lover, to the collaboration and presence of Caetano Veloso, who sings Cucurrucuc paloma live, to Pina Bausch, the choreographer of Caf Mller and Masurca Fogo, the pieces with which the film begins and ends. Im also grateful for the return to the stage in Caf Mllerof Malou, a member of the original Wuppertal Tanztheater who now teaches youngsters and who, out of sheer generosity, immersed herself in the stage again and enthralled everyone.

Pina Bausch

In All About My Mother there was a poster of Pina in Caf Mller (it was hanging on a wall in Cecilia Roths sons room). I didnt know then that that choreographic piece would be the prologue to my next film. At the time I only wanted to pay homage to the German choreographer. When I finished writing Talk to Her and looked at Pinas face again, with her eyes closed, and at how she was dressed in a flimsy slip, her arms and hands outstretched, surrounded by obstacles (wooden tables and chairs), I had no doubt that it was the image which best represented the limbo in which my storys protagonists lived.

Two women in a coma who, despite their apparent passivity, provoke the same solace, the same tension, passion, jealousy, desire and disillusion in men as if they were upright, eyes wide open and talking a mile a minute. Around that time, I saw Masurca Fogo in Barcelona and was struck by its vitality and optimism, its bucolic air and those unexpected images of painful beauty, which made me cry, like Marco, from pure pleasure. Not to mention the sighing beginning, which I had to reduce for narrative reasons.