Pedro Almodóvar is the kind of director that is beloved by almost every film enthusiast internationally, but no one in the U.S. has ever heard of him.
This unfamiliarity is perfectly understandable, as the Spanish film director has made a name for himself through films that are seemingly the definition of arthouse cinema. His 2002 film, “Talk to Her” (“Hable con Ella”) earned the filmmaker an Oscar for best original screenplay, in addition to an Oscar nomination for best director. Last year, his film “Pain and Glory” earned two Oscar nominations, one for best international feature and the other for best lead actor (Antonio Banderas).
His latest film, “The Human Voice,” is a 30-minute short film starring Tilda Swinton based on a play of the same name. It’s opening at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center this Friday and will be shown in a double-feature with the director’s 1988 comedy “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (“Mujeres al borde de un ataque de 'nervios’”).
“The Human Voice” is definitely another example of a film in Almodóvar’s career that will be beloved by those looking for an arthouse experience, but it’s certainly not for everyone.
This is a strange movie. It’s pretty much just a half-hour of Tilda Swinton being frantic and on the verge of madness while her lover breaks up with her over the phone. There are a couple other minor roles in the film, but a vast majority of the runtime is Swinton alone in her apartment with a dog that’s just as confused as the audience is.
I can’t even imagine showing this movie to my dad. It’s just such an odd experience, and it’s bewildering to watch start to finish, even though it’s only a half-hour long.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what makes the film so strange. My guess is that it’s a result of the eccentricity of Swinton’s performance, the baffling tone of the film that frequently shifts from fun-and-light to very dark and depressing, but most of all, I would attribute it to the lack of explanation for seemingly everything going on.
Though experience may be all I got out of the story personally, it feels like I’m almost doing the film a disservice by describing it that way. “The Human Voice” very much feels like a film that is meant to be dissected. It feels like it’s meant to be watched more than once, and then the deeper themes and meanings of it will gradually become clearer. In that sense, “The Human Voice” undoubtedly has the potential to become a cult classic of sorts, at least within the die-hard film community it seems to be made for.
There are many other aspects of this film I am comfortable praising however, the most notable of which is Swinton’s performance in the lead role.
Though I had no clue what was happening with her character most of the time, Swinton never failed to be absolutely electrifying. She perfectly embodied the oddity of the film and its characters. Basically, this feels like the kind of role Swinton was born to play, and she expectedly knocks it out of the park. This film is worth checking out, if not for her performance alone.
Additionally, the costume and production design is outstanding. The various costumes and outfits Swinton wears throughout the film are incredibly vibrant and colorful, which adds to the overall strange charm of the movie. The production and set design are excellent as well. The main character lives in an apartment that seems to just be built out of wood panels in the center of a warehouse, so there’s no ceiling to it or anything. Honestly, I didn’t really understand why it was set up this way, but it certainly made for an interesting visual.
So, yeah. “The Human Voice” is a weird movie, but I think I liked it. It’s definitely not going to break any box office records, but it has strong potential to gain a decent following among loyal lovers of cinema.