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Reflections of Almodovar's life

Calling it the 'most intimate film I've done,' the Spanish director offers a revealing glimpse of himself in his latest effort, 'Talk to Her.'

November 03, 2002|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

If he had been director John Ford, Pedro Almodovar says, he would have had John Wayne cry in "The Searchers." Grown men -- even cowboys who strut -- should cry, the Spanish director contends. It may be embarrassing, but releasing tears provides a certain catharsis, he says.

There are tears aplenty in "Talk to Her," his latest movie, which offers a revealing glimpse into a somewhat more restrained, pensive, mature Almodovar -- a side he says was once repressed by his wilder, more baroque alter ego.

"It's the most intimate film I've done," he said in an interview in Los Angeles. "I show really sentimental men, and it's something that has to do with me directly. It embarrasses me to talk about it, actually. I show things about myself in this movie that I have never shown before."

Mainly, the film is about the comfort of words in combating loneliness, sickness and madness. It is also unabashedly about men who cry. This may seem a departure for a man more frequently associated with films distinguished by surreal flourishes, eccentric characters in colorful settings and outrageous behavior -- and it is.

What Almodovar has also been known for, however, is his perspective on women in and out of relationships and his direction of female actors. That talent is on full display in "Talk to Her," as are his characteristic visual flair and subversively witty jabs at the media. But the focus has shifted, ever so subtly, to men.

Starring Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, Rosario Flores and Geraldine Chaplin, the film is a complex web of stories involving two couples. All the characters seem confined to a terrible loneliness (the film originally was going to be titled "Solitude, I Suppose") until they manage to find each other. The men are emotionally crippled, but they eventually find contentment by talking to the women in their lives.

And here lies one typically Almodovarian quirk -- the men's so-called partners are in a comatose state, with their sides of the story revealed in flashbacks. And the manner in which one character shows his love is -- without giving anything away -- deranged. The women offer the men comfort and give their lives meaning without speaking one word, at least in the present.

Almodovar said the seed for this story was planted when he saw a photo of the great Spanish novelist and dadaist Ramon Gomez de la Serna sitting on a comfortable couch with his "partner" -- a mannequin that was bejeweled, dressed to the nines and that would "receive" guests at home at the writer's side. That image, and the famous Chilean Pablo Neruda's "Poem 15," which loosely translated reads: "I like you when you are silent because you seem to be absent," served as inspirations. Their essence is of a woman with such a powerful presence that she does not need to talk to make an impression.

Although some might see this as a commentary on sexual politics, that was not Almodovar's intent. His interpretation is much more poetic. The film goes out of its way to be nonjudgmental -- even though his characters are deeply flawed, even psychologically damaged.

He went so far as to only allude to a disturbing scene between one man and his comatose partner in a silent movie within the film.

He could not bring himself to portray the act in question, he says. "I couldn't watch it happen," Almodovar said while drinking herbal tea in his bungalow at a Los Angeles hotel. "It's like when you have a terrific friendship with someone and you don't want to talk about their bad side. I have a very good relationship with the character."

Although his work is as sensitively and acutely observant as ever, it seems that the 51-year-old director has come to a personal and career crossroads. Winning an Oscar two years ago for "All About My Mother" had a strange effect.

Rather than going for the big-budget Hollywood movies dangled before him, he retreated into what felt familiar.

"Instead of becoming more ambitious, I have become more restrained and reflective," he said. "I decided I was going to do the opposite of 'All About My Mother.' I was afraid that with that movie's success, 'Talk to Her' would suffer from comparisons. Fortunately, this movie ... is so different it is not seen in competition."

The death of his own mother a few months after the release of "All About My Mother" also brought some gravity into his life that influenced "Talk to Her." The film is also a reflection of the director's continuing need to redefine and challenge himself.

"I need to explore new things," he said. "I'm saturated with the Almodovar of 10 years ago."

Today's Almodovar is older, and physically a little heavier, although he admittedly is still gregarious and a lover of life.

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