One of the many – innumerable – joys about post-lockdown life, is cinemas reopening their doors. And it happily coincides with the release of Pedro Almodóvar’s first English-language film, The Human Voice. The iconic Spanish director’s latest stars Tilda Swinton, the beating heart and sole actor of the film. For the best part of thirty minutes, Swinton and her dog are the only forces that appear on screen, both attempting to cope with the end of a relationship.
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Shot in Madrid last year, it's apt that a story about solitude and isolation came to fruition over lockdown, where so many felt something similar. Almodovar told Vulture that the circumstances made the film even more powerful: "She’s a prisoner twice over. She’s locked down twice over." In The Human Voice, Swinton awaits her ex-lover, who is supposed to arrive at her apartment to collect his last few belongings. He never shows up though, leading Swinton to pace around in couture, pop pills, and pull out an axe to what’s left of his wardrobe. Tongue-in-cheek, it leaves the audience to decipher their own emotional response to Swinton’s breakdown.
The quintessential Almodóvar tropes are all present here. There are the aesthetic choices, which make every Almodóvar production a feast for the eyes: from the vibrant pops of red – namely, Swinton’s iconic Balenciaga gown – to the sublime apartment with plush velvet interiors. The setting is spectacular to say the least, and all the more enviable knowing that Almodóvar selected every piece, from his own apartment.
But aside from the impeccable visuals, there’s the larger pattern at play: the unadulterated, raw female emotion that Almodóvar has dedicated a career to unpacking. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the director’s 1988 black comedy, pulled at a similar narrative, to which Almodóvar hints at in his new venture. Both films borrow from Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play, also titled The Human Voice, in which a panicked woman tries to stop her lover from leaving her. And despite these recurring themes, Almodóvar's works rarely feel repetitive; instead, he makes a brilliant case for the complexities of womanhood that just can’t be shown with a single piece of art. It’s a testament to the director himself that fans will always return to him, for his wit, wisdom and unparalleled eye for beauty.