Feature: Almodovar on Bausch

Friday 18 April 2008

'Talk to Her' ‘Talk to her’ (2002)

the latest film by Spanish Director Pedro Almodovar, has opened in Britain recently to widespread critical acclaim.

He credits Pina Bausch, who appears in the film, as providing both a starting point and a conclusion
to ‘Talk to Her’ through her works ‘Cafe Muller’ and ‘Masurca Fogo’:
“In ‘All About My Mother’ there was a poster of Pina in Café Müller (it was hanging on a wall in Cecilia Roth’s son’s room). I didn’t know then that that choreographic piece would be the prologue to my next film. At the time I only wanted to pay homage to the German choreographer.

Pina Bausch in 'Cafe Muller' 1978 Photo: Jochen Viehoff When I finished writing ‘Talk To Her’ and looked at Pina’s face again, with her eyes closed, and at how she was dressed
in a flimsy slip, her arms and hands outstretched, surrounded by obstacles (wooden
tables and chairs), I had no doubt that it was the image which best represented
the limbo in which my story’s protagonists lived. Two women in a coma who, despite
their apparent passivity, provoke the same solace, the same tension, passion,
jealousy, desire and disillusion in men as if they were upright, eyes wide open
and talking a mile a minute.

Pina Bausch: 'Masurca Fogo' Around that time, I saw ‘Masurca Fogo’ in Barcelona and was struck by its vitality and optimism, its bucolic air and those unexpected images of painful beauty which made me cry, like Marco, from pure pleasure. Not to mention the “sighing beginning”, which I had to reduce for narrative reasons. I’m referring to the beginning of the piece: A woman (Ruth Amarante) appears on a diaphanous stage, her hair is hanging loose and she’s wearing an ankle length flowered dress. She picks up a ’70s style microphone and holds it up to her mouth. It looks as if she’s going to sing or talk, but she doesn’t do either. After filling her lungs with air in a suspense-filled silence, she lets out a long, deep sigh. This is followed by another sigh… and another.

‘Masurca Fogo’ begins with the sadness of the absent Benigno (the sighs) and unites the surviving couple (Marco and Alicia) through a shared bucolic emotion: several couples are dancing in the country to the rhythm of a Cabo Verde mazurca, also accompanied by the sound of a little waterfall which flows miraculously from the grass in all its splendour.

If I had asked for it specifically I couldn’t have got anything better. Pina Bausch had unknowingly created the best doors through which to enter and leave ‘Talk To Her’.”
Almodovar explains that ‘Talk to Her’ has many different influences.
It “tells a private, romantic, secret story, peppered with independent, spectacular units. I’m referring, as well as to the bull fights and the inclusion of Shrinking Lover [a silent film], to the collaboration and presence of Caetano Veloso, who sings Cucurrucucú paloma live, to Pina Bausch, the choreographer of ‘Café Müller’ and ‘Masurca Fogo’, the pieces with which the film begins and ends. I’m also grateful for the return to the stage in ‘Café Müller’ of Malou, a member of the original Wuppertal Tanztheater who now teaches youngsters and who, out of sheer generosity, immersed herself in the stage again and enthralled everyone.”
The curtain of salmon coloured roses and heavy gold fringing which covers the stage is pulled back to reveal a Pina Bausch spectacle, Café Müller. Among the spectators, two men are sitting together by chance. They don’t know each other. They are Benigno (a young nurse) and Marco (a writer in his early forties). On the stage, filled with wooden chairs and tables, two women, their eyes closed and their arms extended, are moving to the music of The Fairy Queen, by Henry Purcell. The piece is so moving that Marco starts to cry. Benigno can see the gleam of his chance companion’s tears, in the darkness of the stalls. He’d like to tell him that he too is moved by the spectacle, but he doesn’t dare.

Months later, the two men meet again at “El Bosque”, a private clinic where Benigno works. Lydia, Marco’s girlfriend and a bullfighter by profession, has been gored and is lying in a coma. It so happens that Benigno is looking after another woman in a coma, Alicia, a young ballet student.

When Marco walks by the door of Alicia’s room, Benigno doesn’t think twice before speaking to him. It’s the start of an intense friendship… a roller coaster ride. During this period of suspended time, between the walls of the clinic, the lives of the four characters will flow in all directions, past, present and future, dragging all of them towards an unsuspected destiny.
‘Talk to Her’
is on general release and can be seen at the Barbican, amongst other venues.
Check for a venue near you

Guardian film search
Philip French, Observer, 24 Aug. 02

Jonathan Romney, Independent, 25Aug. 02: ‘Talk to Her is about the communication of emotion, and deep, serious emotion at that – even if Almodóvar chooses to communicate emotion indirectly, through the most baroque patterning and distancing effects. The film hangs between two extremes, as suggested in the Pina Bausch performances that bookend it: one histrionic and seemingly chaotic, the other a poised, orderly folk shuffle. At issue here is a debate about what words can do and what must be conveyed by the swing and swoon of sound and image. The key line may be Chaplin’s – perhaps voicing Almodóvar’s thoughts – as, nostrils regally flared, she sighs, “I’m a ballet mistress and nothing is simple.”’
Sukhdev Sandhu, Telegraph, Aug. 02

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