Todd McCarthy on Pedro Almodovar’s ‘The Human Voice’ – Deadline

It immediately says something about the differences between Jean Cocteau’s brilliant 1928 dramatic monologue Human voice – as first screened in 1948 by Roberto Rossellini with the immortal Anna Magnani – and the new version of Pedro Almodovar with Tilda Swinton, that the latter features six costume changes in the first six minutes, while the original was content with a single drab little wardrobe.

There are few single-character 20th-century plays as compelling and emotionally complex as Cocteau’s soliloquy in which a woman spends half an hour on the phone with her lover dealing with the terrible news that he is. about to marry someone else. Swinton is undoubtedly one of the select group of actresses who could achieve this, but the ever-impressive Spanish director, in his first English release, is also preoccupied with other issues, including the notion of a fine, if not (for necessarily ) definable line between real life and fabricated drama.

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After performing at the Venice Film Festivals, New York City and BFI London, the 30-minute short is a nominee for this year’s Live Action Short Oscar category, while a theatrical debut via Sony Pictures Classics is slated for March. .

There are few, if any, contemporary filmmakers as devoted to the precepts of melodrama as Almodóvar is, although he often upsets them and puts them to his own imaginative perverse use. Cocteau’s Creation is a straightforward, no-frills, no-frills drama of a very high standard, set entirely in the seedy apartment of a middle-aged woman who has placed her entire pile of emotional chips on a man that she loves desperately. The monologue, which spans two separate calls, sends him emotional ups and downs in a gush of feelings that come from the deepest areas of his heart and soul. The net impact, at least when delivered by a great actress like Magnani, is devastating. (The other high-profile versions of the story featured Ingrid Bergman in 1966 under the direction of Ted Kotcheff for ABC-TV Stage 67, and Sophia Loren in 2014 under the direction of her son Edoardo Ponti, which was set in the 1950s in Naples.)

The first time we see Swinton (her unnamed character), she’s wearing a flaming red dress against a nude background. A moment later, she’s changed into a black outfit and is in a hardware store examining axes – she buys one and takes it home. Upon arrival, she hands out a bunch of DVDs, one of which, prominently, is Kill Bill, sparking concerns that within minutes Cocteau is about to be tossed into a blender along with Tarantino.

Fortunately, the blade is used for more benign use, but a few costume changes later, she took 13 pills, which are heavily colored in vibrant shades to match, as only Almodóvar could have organized them; the director dresses it in a simple black leather jacket for the occasion. More relevant are some aerial perspectives revealing that Swinton resides in an elaborate movie studio set on a soundstage. This immediately raises the question of whether she is staging some sort of pre-written script or, more likely, slipped over the line into a bizarre alternate existence where her dramatic life has taken over from her real life.

After this dazzling and rather dizzying introduction, Almodóvar has only about 20 minutes left to tell the rest of the story. Instead of limiting herself to a phone, Swinton dons headphones, allowing her to freely roam her film set “at home” as she raves about her four years of happiness, her need to keep busy and , desperately, how “I am a waste, I am a ruin of what I once was.

Certainly compared to Magnani, whose investment in the role seemed deep, tragically deep at every moment, Swinton is revealed to be more fragile and neurotic, and yet still in control of herself. She nervously searches for quick fixes, emotional dressings – “I need to invent new habits… I’m a ruin of what I once was,” she broods over the phone, but we’re not convinced that she is a woman who will allow herself to be demolished emotionally due to the end of a romantic relationship.

To be sure, Swinton is fascinating to watch every moment, but making the character a prominent actress herself blurs the line between the character’s actual emotions and those she chooses to express at any given time; at such a brief exposure, we don’t know her well enough to judge whether she is sincere in her emotional distress or just a highly skilled gamer. Her clearly august professional status also calls into question her sincerity in her regrets and her need for her lover.

At every moment, Swinton, supported by her adoring director, director of photography (José Luis Alcaine), costume designer (Sonia Grande) and director of photography (Alberto Iglesias), delivers a film that does not take your eyes. off-her performance as a woman who, unlike Cocteau’s original, is accomplished, recognized and, more than likely, used to getting what she wants. Without her lover, she still has a lot to do, unlike Cocteau’s creation. With Magnani, the character is demolished, as is the viewer. With Swinton, you’re ready to bet she won’t turn the page again, not too many wardrobe changes from here on out.

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