The Human Voice: Movie Review

The Human Voice is a 2020 short film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar starring Tilda Swinton. Inspired by a 1930 monologue by Jean Cocteau which also inspired one of Almodóvar’s most famous films, Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown (1988), The Human Voice is the first film shot in English by the Spanish director.

I saw it at the cinema some days ago (before they shut down again due to Covid-19) preceded by a short video by Almodóvar himself explaining the genesis of the short film and thanking the spectators for being at the cinema (because the big screen is the one he’s interested in: I imagined him with a middle finger raised against Netflix and company!), and also by a very brief greeting from Tilda Swinton completely in love with Spain (I think she recorded the video with her cell phone).

The Human Voice is a theatrical monologue and Tilda Swinton dominates it from start to finish, once again demonstrating her undeniable talent. She interprets a woman who’s saying farewell to the man she has been the lover of in the last four years. Almodóvar updated Cocteau’s writing in which the protagonist appeared submissive and instead makes her wounded but strong, so much so as to walk away with dignity at the end.

As mentioned, there are many elements that were already present in Women on the Verge…: the breakup, the suitcases ready to leave, the flowers on the terrace, the fire… And it’s impossible not to notice all the usual elements of the director’s filmography: the color red is everywhere, there are many shots from above on hands doing something or on drinks and food, Alberto Iglesias composed the soundtrack and there’s the usual cameo of the brother Agustín.

However, perhaps thanks to the duration of the film or the simplicity of the idea, this seemed to me a very structured movie for Almodóvar’s standards, keeping the focus on one idea from start to finish. I came out of the cinema almost knowing the character played by Tilda Swinton, despite having witnessed a simple monologue of her (actually, an excerpt from a telephone conversation), and for a short film it’s a remarkable achievement!

I also liked how the apartment where most of the short film takes place was realistic yet deliberately revealed as a set inside a warehouse just outside Madrid right from the start. Almodóvar could have deceived the viewers without any problem thanks to the excellent lighting and the scenography of exceptional quality. Instead, he chose to play with the audience showing everything as deliberately artifact, showing how cinema works, like a magician who reveals how he managed to pull a a rabbit from his hat. In short, The Human Voice is probably the thing I liked most about Almodóvar as a director together with Bad Education (2004)! Ciao!

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