Monday, September 7, 2009

Viva Pedro: Talk to Her

There are people in this world who judge you. There are people in this world who understand you. In fact, let’s not attach any hues with either the former or the latter. These are just some of the few things that exist. You are free to take a seat on any side of the pan. Point of view can be a strange thing. It can transform a human being to a monster, and vice-versa. In fact, who is who? We can be conditioned to see different things, and feel them in a certain way, judge them by the restricted parameters where there is not much scope for sinking into other person’s shoes.
It is very, very difficult to divorce idealism from love. Also, it is a very thin line. In this territory, virtue can be seamlessly bartered with corniness. For me one of the fascinating things about Chungking Express was that it tread that line of idealism sans any flaws. Same holds true for Talk to Her.
The movie opens to a concert dance which shows two women dying, and a man trying to restore order or increase disorder in their life. Depends on how you may want to view it. This is pretty much similar to what happens in the later part of the movie. Benigno comes back from the emotionally draining concert only to dive in an equally disturbed world of his own. Today is not special for him, it is just one of those nights when she is lying on a bed, stone like, motionless. Dead. Well, almost.What does he do in such a case? It’s pretty simple. He talks to her. While washing her hair, her body, filing her nails, all he does is talk to her. Nothing special, nothing profoundly moving, nothing remotely even worth remembering and recounting.
There is a difference in which we see Alicia and the way in which Benigno sees her. There is one overhead shot where Alicia’s clothes are being changed, and we are only shown Alicia’s body being wrapped by clothes. We, as audience, obviously see Alicia as a mechanical unit, incapable of giving and receiving love, sometimes to an extreme even callously wondering as to why there is so much fuss over someone who is practically dead? Ironically, for Benigno she is his life.
Well, did he rape her? Try asking him this. He might have just been making love, he would reply. Can love really push someone to the edge of insanity? That is the beauty of Almodovar’s movies. He makes his characters seemingly normal. There are always two worlds. One on the surface, and the one under it. Benigno could just be any guy when he is introduced to us, but then using a series of flashback Almodvar corrodes the paint from the facade and brings out the real him. It would not have been half effective, had the movie been loyal to chronology.
Benigno’s love for Alicia defies the conventional boundaries. It is madness, his friend tells him. But, haven’t our own madness been sheltered and consoled by the oft quoted “If it is not madness, it is not love”? He would unhesitatingly accept her as who she is. No questions asked. It never bothered him that her brain is dead, because he knew that a major part of his insignificant, humdrum life in the last four years has gone in talking to her. He talks to her as if she is there, listening patiently, smiling contently.
Almodovar effectively uses the silent movies that Benigno goes to mirror his state of mind. The movie he goes to see is titled ‘Shrinking Lover’, where a man(Alfredo) shrinks in size so much with respect to his lover that he is unable to make love to her(in a conventional sense, at least!). Benigno is not much different from Alfredo. He wants to love Alicia, but he is incapable of loving. Months looking from the window, years nurturing her in a dead-like state. Yet, he is zilch to her. And as he narrates the story of the movie to Alicia, in the strangest and the most poignant of scenes, it looks as if the ever-vulnerable-parched-from-love Benigno is losing grip over himself by each passing second and strangely almost-dead Alicia looks in supreme control. That has been the sum-total of their relationship. If at all it could be called that. Benigno was never in control even in life, while Alicia even in a comatose state held the strings. It is this forever imbalance that pushed Benigno further.
And then there is Marco, whose life inter cuts with Benigno’s. Marco is visibly frustrated with his inability to communicate with his wife who suffers from the same problem as Alicia’s. Benigno offers an uncluttered explanation –Talk to Her.Really, if at all instead of harboring their parallel world, people would come out and talk, confusion, melancholy would not be swept coldly under the rug, rather they will see the light of each other’s feelings. However contradictory, however caustic. This supreme metaphor is almost an antithesis of Almodovar’s many movies. This is what makes this movie so unlike his previous works.
One of the most striking feature of this movie is that it is difficult to bracket it. And it is not a mean feet. For a movie that runs for 110 minutes, it gives plenty of slices to relish. Different people can take different things from this movie. It is the various sub-plots in the movie that makes it even more profound. What is the movie really about? Loneliness? Friendship? Unusual love? Also, after a subtle revelation in the movie, it seems as if Almodovar is teasing us with childish glee, throwing the question at us again and again: So, whose side you are on? Benigno? Or, the people who judged him? Whose side is Alicia is supposed to be (if at all she comes to know)?
And then Benigno crosses the line, probably for the last time. In the heartbreaking climax, Beningo writes to Marco. The camera moves over to the barbed wires of the Jail. How different was it from the window of his own room from where he used to gape at Alicia, daily? The biggest, thickest and the most insurmountable barriers are the ones we create for ourselves. Benigno created one for himself and it finally took more than a dozen pills to break free from it. Although according to him he was not even trying to break free. He was going back. To himself, to Alicia, to the ‘we’. As he writes in his letter to Marco, to “reunite with Alicia in coma”. Almost as a matter of fact. Little does he know, she came crawling out from the coma, on that faint dim of hope that Benigno had infused her with in those four years. And she does not even know it. Neither does he.
Benigno’s expectations from life had been fairly modest. Even now, he just wanted Marco to ‘Talk to Him’. Because, he had never been talked to. He was the one, who invariably used to do all the talking. It is his time to listen now. As the movie draws to a close, there are three world and its inhabitants. Marco, obviously distraught by trusting ‘the correct people who judged Benigno’ rather than his own judgement. His only redemption is to live in a room that had promises of Benigno-Alicia relationship. Yes, just that. Promises. Alicia’s world is insulated from her past. She would never get a chance to even contemplate whether ‘Benigno’ meant any harm or not. Infact, more so, it was Benigno who never got a second chance to reiterate this fact to Alicia. And then there is Benigno, waiting to be talked to. Just about anything.

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