The Human Voice: Pedro Almodovar gives hypnotic cinematic vision
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Agustin Almodovar, Miguel Almodovar
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
In the richly textured, precisely structured The Human Voice, his first English-language venture, Pedro Almodovar gives full rein to his quirky, hypnotic cinematic vision. He stamps his style on every frame of the short fiction film in terms of colour, music and narrative sleights.
The Human Voice, a free, felicitous adaptation of a Jean Cocteau monodrama, is anchored by a sublime Tilda Swinton. Almodovar draws primary inspiration from the French play but, as he did so wondrously in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), he revises much of it to suit his creative ends. He reimagines the female protagonist’s response to the abrupt, painful termination of a love affair.
Two pre-credits sequences, in which the unnamed woman loiters dejectedly around a soundstage, instantly establish the theatrical roots of the film, besides reflecting the gloom that has gripped the protagonist. In the first scene, she dons a bright red crinoline ball gown. In the next, she is in black. The colour of love is replaced by the colour of mourning.
Post-credits, the woman, now in a turquoise suit, is in a hardware store to buy an axe – the only time she is out of her apartment since her lover left her. But later, on the phone with her ex-lover, she lies so as not to let on how badly she has taken the desertion. She tells him she watched a play with a friend, visited the therapist, and had sumptuous meals.
The Human Voice, available in India on BookMyShow Stream, masterfully condenses the Almodovar universe within a single apartment, which, as the camera reveals a few minutes into the film, is a set erected in a studio. Of course, the face and voice of an unwaveringly spot-on Swinton is a luminous appendage. So utterly dazzling is the film and so scintillating is its sole actor that you can never have enough of either.
It is in her reading and viewing choices that Almodovar reveals himself most directly. In a frame, we spot DVDs of All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind, two 1950s Rock Hudson films directed by Douglas Sirk. Sirk’s use of colours is known to have influenced the evolution Almodovar’s vivid visual palette.
Tilda Swinton joins a long line of illustrious actresses who have over the years played Cocteau’s woman spurned. In Roberto Rossellini’s 1948 film Una Voce Umani (part of a two-segment anthology titled L’Amore), it was Anna Magnani. In 1964, Simone Signoret, recorded the play in a single, non-stop take in her Parisian home.
On the table are Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness (Almodovar adapted three of the Canadian writer’s short stories for his 2016 film Julieta) and Lucia Berlin’s short story anthology, A Manual for Cleaning Women, which the director is currently reportedly in the process of filming. Also, do not miss Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night, both of which successfully made their way to the big screen.