Pedro Almodóvar’s English language debut allows for Tilda Swinton to own the screen in the gorgeous The Human Voice.
Madness and melancholy intersect to thrilling effect as Almodóvar reimagines Jean Cocteau’s short play The Human Voice for an era in which isolation has become a way of life. Laws of desire become the rules of the game as Tilda Swinton’s unnamed woman paces and panics in a glorious Technicolor apartment where décor offers a window into her state of mind. A short, sharp shot of distilled Almodóvar: passion, emotion, heartbreak, wit, and melodrama exquisitely bound up in a tale for our times.
Swinton stalks around her gorgeously expensive apartment, rearranging and keeping everything in perfect order when her mental and emotional state is on a literal knife edge. Feeling trapped in her luscious apartment until he arrives to collect his things, she has begun to crack. Only leaving the house once to purchase the axe in the opening sequence. Not over the relationship, she has been clinging to seeing him again as he has not yet collected all of his belongings, she needs one final moment with him. Or at the least believes that she does.
Her monologue (we never hear a word from the other end of her calls) is otherworldly. Beginning the conversation lying about how she is and how things are going since their break up. Her façade slips the longer she is on the call. We see the full range of emotions one can have in such a phone call until that second call comes and we see she has come out of her depths and is ready to start anew. It is a bold performance with Almodóvar’s camera continually directly in her face at her most emotional moments of her phone call. This is a performance-based on realism and honestly who hasn’t felt snippets of what Swinton’s character utters out to her ex?
This is the type of performance that you would struggle to point another actor who could do it as ably and comfortably as Tilda Swinton. The switches in emotions and thoughts are enough to cause whiplash to the viewer never mind the actor. A performance that cannot be forgotten.
Still, this is not a film based on realism, the setting is enough of a giveaway of that, as is the conversation Swinton has. We know this from the first shot, nothing is really of surprise as we are taken through Swinton’s 24 or so hours. A masterstroke in allowing us to see Swinton’s face throughout the call was to have her utilise a Bluetooth headset to communicate from. Though it has to be noted that this does accentuate the stage play feel of the piece.
While the apartment is covered inexpensive objects, this is a very minimalist production. Almost entirely set in the apartment, or what counts towards an apartment. A character who is at the end of her tether after being abandoned by her mysterious long term lover. Swinton barely touches anything as she roams from room to room talking to her former companion.
Let’s focus for a moment on that apartment in The Human Voice. Antxon Gómez has worked wonders here to create this stunning space. Gomez has positioned each item is perfectly placed to get the perfect shot from. To the point where it feels as if the apartment is being used as the ultimate product placement exercise. No stone has been left unturned to create Almodóvar’s vision. Following on from this costume designer Sonia Grande who has dressed Swinton in some sensational pieces. Lastly, a note, is that not the best-dressed tool shop workers you have ever seen?
At 30 minutes, you would be forgiven for thinking that there is not much here to take in. Yet, Almodóvar has packed almost every shot with enough information about our character. With her current state evident in the first 6 minutes than some features could. When she is organising her coffee table, strewn with DVDs or Blu-Rays and books we see what our subject has been gorging on in these three days. Kill Bill, Jackie and Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s to name but a few. All about women going on in this world on their own. Clearly she wants to forget this man, however, for as long as his things are here in his expensive suitcases and bags, she cannot escape him. He haunts her just by having his bags there ready to go. The cruelest fate for someone who has been dumped.
Many others will undoubtedly say. The worst thing about The Human Voice is that we only had it for 30 minutes. Like Swinton’s character in the closing shots, perhaps less is more.
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