What I see? The human voice is the passport to the future of Pedro Almodóvar
For years, decades in fact, the siren song of Hollywood, no matter how hard it tried, failed to exert its enchantment on Pedro Almodóvar. Since the Spanish director stood out as one of the most distinctive and outstanding directors of European cinema at the end of the eighties, a time in which he tried, thanks to Women at the edge of a nervous attack, who was able to attract viewers from all over the world, the Anglo-Saxon film industry is trying to convince him to translate his melodramatic stories with garish colors and intense women into English.
However, nothing seemed to be able to twist the director’s will until this year, which began with the news that Almodóvar will shoot his first feature film spoken in English with Cate Blanchett as the protagonist and co-producer. The film, based on the book of stories by Lucía Berlin, published in Spanish under the title Manual for cleaning women, could be filmed in the United States, where the five stories that the director took as a starting point for the script take place.
The reasons for the filmmaker’s change of mind may be several. Among them, at this point in his career it can be assumed that Almodóvar is looking for new challenges and that his long tradition with film festivals finally convinced him of the idea of cinema as a global epic. Or perhaps, as happened a few months ago when he decided to sell the rights to his most recent film, parallel mothers, to Netflix for distribution in Latin America and to give the platform its entire catalog for the Spanish territory, the new project represents its way of joining the “enemy” after accepting defeat.
That his crusade to defend the purity and magic of cinema in movie theaters against streaming platforms capsized is not new, but his claudication in relation to the language and the settings for his films seem to have been caused more by a success than for a failure: the human voice, available from this week on the Mubi platform.
The extraordinary short film, directed and written by Almodóvar and freely inspired by the play of the same title written in 1930 by Jean Cocteau, condenses the director’s cinema with such forcefulness that even the cold English adapts to his passions. And so does the new woman – that girl thing and better to leave it aside – Almodóvar, Tilda Swinton.
Expressive and elegant, the British interpreter builds a character at the height of the director’s intense, runaway and melodramatic heroines. Like the actress abandoned by her lover in Women at the edge of a nervous attack, the woman who embodies Swinton overflows with desperation although, rather dead than simple, she does so dressed in attractive primary colors that match and beautiful visual contrast with the apartment she walks through like a banshee. In that 1988 film, the focus on the work of the film dubbing artists pointed out the artifice of the story, which did not intend to be realistic but rather dramatic in the manner of the cinema of other times. And some of that also sneaks in human voice, who discovers the sets to show that those environments that the character goes through are pure story, a cardboard manifestation of what happens in his troubled head. yes in pain and glory, the director played with the idea of autobiography and the cinema within the cinema, in the human voice seems to be paying homage to his legacy in thirty triumphant minutes.
“My paleness and that mixture of madness and melancholy are very interesting to some clients,” says Swinton on screen, also embarking on a self-referential journey of her own that makes her the perfect vehicle for the story, premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2020 The indelible image of the actress in a hardware store selecting an ax with the delicacy of someone putting together a flower arrangement provides that playful element, even in the midst of the drama, that distinguishes the author’s work. Filmed in the first months of the pandemic, the short film contains his sensitivity, his clinical eye for personal and intimate tragedy and for the staging in which his usual collaborators such as the director of photography José Luis Alcaine, the musician Alberto Iglesias and production designer Antxón Gómez.
In the human voice, Almodóvar processes his creative past –somewhere there is a mention of The law of Desire and the entire monologue of the protagonist could have been part of The flower of my secret–, but far from any nostalgic result, what he achieves is a safe-conduct towards the future. After years of resisting writing and filming in English, the short film proved to him that not only can he do it, but that it’s time to try.