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Monday, September 15, 2003

Girlfriend in a coma (I know, I know, it's serious)

I have just finished watching Talk to Her, Almodovar's celebrated film from last year, which both Time Magazine and The New York Times called the best movie of the year, and which Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called "unmissable and unforgettable."

Talk to Her won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. The film is currently listed on IMDB as # 130 on the top 250 films of all time.

Me? I'm still scratching my head.

It has ingredients from other Almodovar films. There's melodrama and soap opera and the occasional bit of comic relief. There's a liberal dose of sexual tension. And, somewhat disturbingly, there's this kind of recurring Almodovarian theme: a woman, placed on a pedestal and worshipped, becomes a victim of abuse by her worshippers.

You get the feeling that the artist is working through the same issues he tackled in his previous films. Of course, woody Allen does the same thing; so did Fassbinder too, for that matter. Maybe all artists do.

The feeling I had after watching the movie was similar to the feeling I had after seeing Picasso's Suite Vollard, a series of engravings featuring chaos, death, decapitations, etc. Quite a number of the engravings seemed to feature women being raped by minotaurs. Afterwards I felt I had some insight into how Picasso had painted "Guernica," but I'm not sure I actually wanted to know. Sure, you can lift a corner of the psychic rug to see what's lying underneath, but do you really want to know?

Speaking of minotaurs, this movie features a female matador who goes into a coma after she is gored by a bull. Hmmmm. Hmmmm. And Picasso and Almodovar are both Spanish. Hmmmm. Hmmmm.

Well, to paraphase Freud, sometimes a horn is just a horn.

It probably goes without saying that the cinematography is wonderful, the acting is impeccable, and Almodovar directs the camera flawlessly. It's well-paced. The plot moves in a peculiar, herky-jerky sequence of flashbacks and flash-forwards. It doesn't have the same hip, postmodern, nonlinear flavor of say, Pulp Fiction -- it feels more like some old serial drama ("MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE HOSPITAL...") I kept expecting the shot to go into one of those wavy dissolves.

I was completely dissatisfied with the ending of the movie. We've been dragged through 90 minutes of pathos, heartbreak, suffering etc. and it's like Almodovar says, "Fuck it, let's give 'em a happy ending." So BOOM! one deus ex machina, two improbable contrivances and six coincidences later, we have a neat and tidy happy ending. And people stand up and applaud this, they call it "the best film of the year." Yay happy ending. Here, have an Oscar.

And I'm scratching my head wondering if anyone else noticed that nothing in the third act would have actually happened in real life. Almodovar might as well have had Tinkerbell fly down and sprinkle pixie dust on everyone in the movie. It would have been just as realistic.

But maybe we don't care. Maybe we like happy endings. We've liked the deus ex machina ever since Euripides first ran it into the ground around 400 B.C. Now that I think of it, Euripides was another misogynist who wrote tragicomedies based around women and did fairly well for himself. Anyone for "Trojan Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown?"