Movie Review ~ The Human Voice (2020)


The Facts

Synopsis: A short film adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s one-act play. It follows a desperate woman who waits for the phone call of the lover who has just abandoned her.

Stars: Tilda Swinton, Agustín Almodóvar, Miguel Almodóvar, Pablo Almodóvar

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Rated: R

Running Length: 30 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  I mean, let’s just get this out of the way first off.  Has there ever been a better trio of collaborators?  Pedro Almodóvar, Tilda Swinton, and Quarantine?  Seriously, who knows if it hadn’t been for this strange year we just experienced if a short film like The Human Voice would ever have happened.  I’m not sure I totally love the work as a whole but the artists involved are of such impeccable quality that you sort of just accept what they offer you and be glad they showed up at all.  How else would we ever be treated to an Oscar winning director and actress joining up and giving us a bite-sized version of their best and tastiest calling cards?  Our treats include such bon-bons as Almodóvar’s rich sense of color and eye for camera angles, Swinton’s never to be duplicated way for approaching a line reading and her ability to wear the most outrageous clothes and have it feel like she’s tromping around her house in sweatpants.  Visually, the film is no question a stunner…it’s all those pesky words that might derail you over its half hour running length.

Jean Cocteau’s 1930 monologue-drama has been seen on film (and in drama/speech competitions) numerous times but as adapted by Almodóvar it’s given a handy reading, at least in the stage actions of Swinton (Suspiria) as a spurned lover saying good-bye to her flame.  The lover is already gone and Swinton’s character isn’t taking it too well…that’s why an early trip to a hardware store sees Swinton buying a hefty axe that she uses to exercise some frustration on a suit she’s laid out on their bed.  (Side note: any film where Tilda Swinton buys an axe in the first ten minutes instantly merits a watch in my book…but, you do you.)  Then…a phone call.  Largely dialogue-free up until now, this is where Almodóvar’s film starts to get a little treacly and fartsy (not artsy) and not even Swinton’s dynamite costumes by Sonia Grande (The Lost City of Z) or the exquisite production design from Antxón Gómez (Pain and Glory) can pull it back.  It just sort of fails to go anywhere beyond the confines it sets for itself and with art direction so vibrant, it’s an odd dichotomy to work with.

That’s disappointing because for a thirty-minute film with a great pedigree, The Human Voice shouldn’t feel tough to sit through.  And, at times, it does.  On stage, I’d most certainly be enraptured in the presence of the actor playing the part and how they convey the feelings they are working with moving through this grief, but something is lost in the film we watch and the emotion that can’t come through the screen.  That’s not Swinton’s fault (because her reactions are not entirely what we anticipate) and I don’t even think it’s Almodóvar’s fault (seeing that he has conceived of it as more modern and speaking to the pandemic times we are living in)…it’s the piece itself.  So what we’re left with are a chorus of strong voices that harmonize for a time but gradually fall out of tune because of one discordant note.

Movie Review ~ Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria)

The Facts

Synopsis: A film director reflects on the choices he’s made in life as past and present come crashing down around him.

Stars: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Julieta Serrano, Kiti Mánver, Nora Navas

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Rated: R

Running Length: 113 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Throughout his nearly 40-year career, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has come to be associated with bright, bold, adventurous films that pushed boundaries and buttons with the kind of glee only someone with a true love of cinema could get away with.  He’s a lot like Quentin Tarantino in that he clearly has a deep respect for movies and the filmmaking process and treats each of his pictures as a work of art, carefully constructing them to be just so.  You know when a new Almodóvar film comes to the screen that it’s the result of a considerable amount of ideas and always with a piece of the director himself obviously (or not so obviously) pinned within.

In Almodóvar’s newest work, Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria) the Oscar-winning director turns in his most personal work yet, a thinly veiled autobiographical exploration of a man celebrated for his directorial achievements now facing a decline in success and ambition.  Looking back at his childhood during the 1960s, his young adult life in the 1980s, and then in the present as he reconnects with people from his past he has unresolved issues with, the movie isn’t strictly a recounting of Almodóvar’s life but from what I gather it hews fairly close to what we knew of his trajectory.

As his greatest film is being re-released on the eve of its 30th anniversary, Spanish director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas, The 33) is drawn to get back in touch with the star of that film who he hasn’t spoken to since their movie was first in theaters.  Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) is reluctant at first to welcome Salvador back into his life but soon the men are speaking like old friends with Alberto even introducing Salvador to heroin which he promptly becomes dependent on.  It’s during his drug episodes that Salvador retreats into memories of his childhood with his mother (Penelope Cruz, Murder on the Orient Express  and, later, Julieta Serrano) and several episodic awakenings he has growing up.

Back in the present, Salvador begins to expunge some of his old hang-ups and regrets through his writing which Alberto performs as monologues at a local theater.  One audience member (Leonardo Sbaraglia) hears the monologue and recognizes a story as an affair he had with Salvador and asks Alberto to help him locate Salvador so that they may both have closure to what was obviously an important time for both men.  It’s this scene that really speaks volumes about the loneliness Salvador feels, realizing whatever demons he thought were gone with his writing might still be around when he sees his former lover.  It’s ostensibly just a scene between two former flames but Banderas and Sbaraglia create a palpable chemistry that clues you into just how deep their relationship was back in the day.

As with all Almodóvar films, there are a lot of characters to keep track of and intertwining timelines with chance occurrences that can only happen in the movies.  It’s these very cinematic touches that remind us we’re watching a movie but don’t rob the scene from its realism in emotion, strong feelings Almodóvar doesn’t seem to have trouble evoking.  That’s what makes his films so special over time, even the zanier films of the ‘80s and ‘90s that were off-the-wall were rooted in a particular emotional resonance that just happened to be amplified in volume by Almodóvar’s artistic touches.

As Almodóvar’s pseudo stand-in, Banderas turns in the best work in quite some time, maybe ever.  Winning the prestigious Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival, he’s surely on his way to his first Best Actor Oscar nomination and with good reason.  Playing the rascally side of Salvador with a nice flicker in his eye while parlaying that into a deep sadness at his loss of inspiration for what he used to love doing, the long-standing relationship Banderas has with Almodóvar surely helped him in getting the performance just right.  The Salvador-Alberto relationship is supposedly based on the Almodóvar-Banderas one and it’s interesting to watch Banderas as Almodóvar interact with another actor playing a version of himself.

For her brief cameo, Cruz (another frequent Almodóvar collaborator) makes a strong impression as Salvador’s strong-willed mother who pushed her son to go his own way, even when it was contradictory do the norm.  I didn’t quite believe Cruz’s character would have aged into Serrano’s but both actresses carry the same steely resilience of a parent holding fast to helping their child through all thorny walks of life.  Serrano and Banderas share some great scenes that are sensitive and thought provoking until they become heart breaking by the film’s conclusion.

After countless films that range in genre and tone, Almodóvar’s latest represents a welcome leveling off reflection of a career and a life.  Not as awash in colors or jarring to the senses as his early work, nor as challenging as his later entries that tipped toward campy thrillers, this feels like Almodóvar exhaling and letting go of a different kind of evoked emotion all together.

The Silver Bullet ~ I’m So Excited (Los amantes pasajeros)



Synopsis: The film is an ensemble comedy written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar.

Release Date:  November 22, 2013

Thoughts: As a big fan of Oscar winning director Almodóvar, I’m…well…so excited for his next film due out on US shores in late 2013.  What I love so much about the director is that even when he misses, it’s not a total failure and there is at least something in the visuals, production, or acting that you can take some enjoyment from.  Little is known about the plot for I’m So Excited so just enjoy the teaser for what it is – a typically Almodóvar-ian out of the blue delight.  Bonus points for the film not mentioning/showing that it has two fairly large stars in the cast.