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TALK TO HER ****

By GUY FLATLEY

CAST: Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, Rosario Flores, Geraldine Chaplin, Mariola Fuentes, Lola Duenas, Beatriz Santiago, Paz Vega, Fele Martinez, Adolfo Fernandez, Elena Anaya, Loles Leon

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Pedro Almodovar


When a man is given the responsibility of looking after a beautiful ballet student who has been in a coma for four years, he may brush her hair, change her gown and even tell her stories, but it is strictly against the rules of the clinic for him to make love to her. This, however, is a film by Pedro Almodovar, an artist who plays by his own rules. And so we have not only the story of besotted male nurse Benigno and sleeping beauty Alicia, but, just down the hall, the equally exotic tale of inconsolable journalist Marco and comatose Lydia, the bullfighter with whom he remains passionately in love. Benigno and Marco, whose paths had previously crossed at the performance of a bizarre ballet in which a silent man frantically tries to protect two blind women from danger, come to truly know one another at the clinic and to forge a spiritual bond. Which is not to say that each copes with the loss of a loved one in the same sane, legal way.

Morbid, perverse and in extremely questionable taste, this scenario might well have sailed over the top and into the realm of high camp. Yet Almodovar--the former bad boy of the Spanish cinema who shocked and entertained us with "Dark Habits," "Law of Desire" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" before taking a giant artistic step with "All About My Mother"--defies our expectations. Thanks to his skill and unique vision, sick characters and grotesque events have a way of transforming into agents of healing and designs for living. His astonishing screenplay, shifting back and forth in time and layered with tenderness and humor, turns out to be a graceful, mysterious meditation on our unquenchable search for human connection.

In his haunting achievement, Almodovar has been abetted by the stunning imagery of cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe and by the breathtaking music of Alberto Iglesias and Caetano Velosa. Among the players deserving the highest of praise are Javier Camara and Dario Grandinetti as Benigno and Marco, Leonor Watling and Rosario Flores as the recipients of their adoration, and the extraordinary Geraldine Chaplin in the small but strong role of a luminous ballet teacher.

Almodovar's "All About My Mother" won an Oscar as Best Foreign-Language Film of 2000. I say, forget the language and put "Talk to Her" in the proper category--Best Film of 2002.