“The Human Voice” — short film; a theme echoing across Pedro Almodóvar’s career

Eugene Hernandez has the privilege of a long interview w/Tilda Swinton and Pedro Almodóvar

When was the last time that the Question & Answer session was longer than the film? Pedro Almodóvar short film The Human Voice, which previewed at the Venice Film Festival, screened at the 58th New York Film Festival this weekend. The 30-minute film is Almodóvar’s first English language film and stars the great Tilda Swinton. Based on the 1930 play, “The Human Voice” (La Voix Humane) by Jean Cocteau, it was a chance for the Spanish director and the Scottish actor to work together during the Pandemic. Filmed on a sound stage, the cameras reveal the set and go behind the scenes, as if to show that it’s a play. There are gorgeous costumes that represent this character but are also glamorous set pieces. The setting of this grieving woman’s apartment felt like it was a copy or reflection of the same apartment used in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown; one of my favorite Almodóvar films.

In the hour-long Q & A talk with Almodóvar and Swinton, we learn that the play was referenced in that earlier film (Women on the Verge). Though the only pieces left of the play are the grieving woman, and the suitcase waiting to be picked up…there’s still the vibration of the Cocteau piece. When Almodóvar decided to work with Swinton, they discussed how the play was like the lyrics to a song that has been covered over and over. He needed to rewrite the words because Swinton was the opposite of the character in The Human Voice. There was an “organic feeling of harmony” as they created this strong yet damaged character together. For the film is all about her voice, on the phone, trying to come to terms with the end of a long-term relationship.

“We’re condemned to be friends”, Tilda Swinton said. For though Pedro is Spanish and Tilda is Scottish, they both speak the language of cinema. The fun of this screening was to see how happy they both were to have the film premiere at a Drive-In at the New York Film Festival. It seemed to be such an appropriate place to have it screen. Almodóvar spoke of how important it is for us to see a film together. “Cinema is about adventure” — we need to feel the reactions together, share those feelings together. Eugene Hernadez, Director of the NYFF, mentioned how inspiring it was to the film community to see that this film was being made; that any cinema was being made. This film seems to bookend Almodóvar’s career from a reference in is 1988 film to a work created in a global pandemic. Art will survive.

Drinks with Films Rating: 4 glasses of Sangria (hopefully not spiked with sleeping pills) out of 5

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