May 13, 2021
Swinton plays a woman abandoned by her lover in a short, affecting drama that echoes the uncertainties of lockdown
The Human Voice review – Tilda Swinton on the verge in Almódovar’s tale of despair
For the times of lockdown, Pedro Almódovar’s new short film is perhaps the most viable and relevant type of film production: a tale of someone isolated, regretful, anxious, unable to tell whether current arrangements are contingent or permanent, retreating into gestures of self-immolating despair. This theatrical piece is loosely based on Jean Cocteau’s 1930 stage play of the same name. It was adapted by Rossellini in the 40s, and also proved to be a jumping-off point for Almódovar’s own Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.Tilda Swinton plays a woman who is on the verge of something similar. Or maybe the verge is now long behind her. She is living in what appears to be an apartment in Spain, vividly and richly presented in soupy reds and oranges that pop on the screen, with a hint of retro – decor that could exist only in an Almódovar picture. The play has this woman speaking on the telephone, in anguish, to the lover who has just left her – and that’s what Swinton does, too, only with cordless earphones, while his bags are packed ready to go in the hall, and his dog, miserable and confused to be abandoned as well, leaps trustingly along behind her as she strides restlessly about the flat or down to a hardware store to buy an axe. She needs it for a bit of futile pseudo-violence, whose only effect can be to make her feel worse.Almódovar deconstructs both the woman’s state of mind – and perhaps his own emotional rhetoric as well – by at first keeping his camera well within this apartment and then by moving above it, revealing it to be a ceiling-less set constructed within the cavernous sound stage we see at the beginning of the film, some of whose kitchen drawers don’t open, and some of whose shelf adornments are fake. Like the woman’s life together with this departed man, this apartment is a phoney.
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