HUMAN VOICE, THE SHORT FILM
(director/writer: Pedro Almodóvar; screenwriter: based on a Jean Cocteau play; cinematographer: José Luis Alcaine; editor: Teresa Font; music: Alberto Iglesias; cast: Tilda Swinton (Unnamed); Runtime: 30; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García; A Sony Pictures Classic; 2020-Spain-in English)
“Based loosely on the 1930 monologue play by Jean Cocteau.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A short film of 30 minutes that’s written and directed by the always interesting Spanish director of international note Pedro Almodóvar (“Talk to Her”/”Bad Education”), that’s based loosely on the 1930 monologue play by Jean Cocteau. This is the auteur’s first film in English, and is a curious choice for him, as the film is too short for his customary twist endings. The indomitable Tilda Swinton plays the one-woman theater role of the rejected in marriage unnamed woman having an emotional phone talk with the guy she loves very much and was with for 4 years, who rejected her to be marrying someone else tomorrow (we never hear the guy’s voice). As expected, Tilda is made for this role.
It was beautifully done before by the amazing Anna Magnani in her lover Roberto Rossellini’s film of L’Amore (1948) and again for Ted Kotcheff by the magnificent Ingrid Bergman (another Rossellini lover), who played it on television in 1966. This time it’s set during the socially distancing time of the Covid-19 era, and takes on a different significance because of the disease . It was shot in 4 weeks in Madrid.
Tilda is the wealthy actress-model and the fashionably dressed woman appearing in an assortment of gorgeous Chanel dresses in red, who lives in a luxury apartment (created on a visible sound-stage, to show its theater roots–that is a kitsch place created by Pedro’s longtime production designer, Antxón Gómez).
Tilda is always with her cute but restless dog Dash. The messy central scene makes it seem like her immense riches are not enough to make her happy, as she’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown over her breakup.
Tilda has her man’s clothes packed in his upscale baggage in her closet and is so bitter, she chops up one of his suits and lays it on the bed. She also finds time to go out and buy an axe and a can of gasoline (Don’t ask!). Contemplating suicide, she takes some sleeping pills but not enough to kill herself. When after it seems her famous theater man lover is not coming, he calls three days later to tell her he wants his clothes shipped.
Realizing she will probably never see him again, the wounded woman recovers her strength and hardens to become how a hurt woman must learn to speak for herself in an Almodóvar melodrama, even if going stark raving mad. She must show that nothing in the outside world matters but what’s in her head. Since she lives in comfort, it’s easy to see someone like her recover from a bad situation (it’s easier if you have lots of money to fall back on, easier than if you don’t have the money).
There’s something safe to say about the rich suffering like the others during these Covid times, as it seems that this is what Almodóvar is trying to tell us.
The contentious film played at the Venice Film Festival, and was well-received.
REVIEWED ON 3/19/2021 GRADE: B +