One of the most famous and alluring exports of modern Spanish cinema, Pedro Almodóvar, is back with a new short film, The Human Voice.
The Human Voice is a short drama film written and directed by Almodóvar in his English language debut, starring the one and only, Tilda Swinton. The short is loosely based on Jean Cocteau’s monodrama of the same name released in 1930.
It focuses on a woman (Swinton) who watches the time pass by next to her ex-lover’s suitcases, an ex-lover that was supposed to come and pick them up but never did. There is also a restless dog who doesn’t understand that his master has left him. During the three days of waiting, the woman only goes out to the street once to buy an axe and gasoline canister. She goes through all sorts of moods, from sheer helplessness to despair and a loss of control. She tries to make herself up. She dresses up as if she is going to a party with a big, flamboyant, and beautiful red dress. She even considers throwing herself off the balcony until her ex-lover calls on the phone.
Tilda Swinton is fantastic. Watching her deliver what is, essentially, a 30-minute monologue is astonishingly engaging. She offers a great range of different emotions that entwine with each other effortlessly. It puts the audience in awe as she weaves through anguish and the absurd. With adamantine dismalness, her character still holds on, even when it might feel like she is about to snap into a mental breakdown of some sort. Tilda Swinton’s performance feels like a sleight of hand; you do not know what you will get next. Her facial expressions deceive you. A tour de force from one of the best actresses of our generation.
The film gives us some minor details that help get into her character’s mental space to make us feel closer to her and how she feels inside. One of these examples is the Blu-Rays that she has on her coffee-table, Phantom Thread (2017) and Kill Bill (2003), which are great examples of revenge, reliance, redemption, and toxic masculinity. It also delivers small references to Almodóvar’s past works, with symbolism throughout the apartment room. The director even teases his future work as there is a shot in the film that focuses on a copy of Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women, which is set to be his first full-length feature adaptation in English.
Although only 30-minutes long, The Human Voice packs everything an audience might expect coming from Pedro Almodóvar. It has the typical, colourful, and vivid production design, looks, and costumes. Not to mention a thrillingly beautiful score by his frequent composer Alberto Iglesias, who worked with the director on Broken Embraces (2009), Volver (2006), Talk to Her (2002), and Julieta (2016).
The Human Voice is a skilful exploration from Almodóvar in the short format and the English-language. He portrays what it’s like to be on the brink of despair and the effect of loneliness on a person while touching on melancholy themes and everything weird. He even breaks the fourth wall as he shows the stage and the film set at different angles. The film’s closeted and restricted setting makes the film more resonant with today’s times, which many other movies have failed to achieve. Almodóvar and Swinton are an excellent pairing; they blend each other’s style perfectly. If there is a short film that people should check out when given a chance, it is this one – another masterwork by the legendary Spanish director who always seems to surprise us.
This is Almodóvar’s first English language film.