It’s been a long three-year wait since Pedro Almodovar’s last film, the magnificent “All About My Mother,” and this one comes as a bit of a surprise for several reasons, most notably because it centers on male characters and runs at a gentle, measured pace without the fireworks of his previous films. Although, it still has a typical Almodovar plot.
Marco (Dario Grandinetti) is a writer who becomes interested in a female bullfighter (Rosario Flores), originally for professional reasons. When she is badly gored by a bull, he starts a bedside vigil and meets Benigno (Javier Camara), a nurse caring for the similarly comatose dancer Alicia (Leonor Watling). As their friendship grows, Marco starts to suspect that Benigno might be more than a little unbalanced in his amorous feelings toward Alicia.
From here, Almodovar spirals his story out in various directions with flashbacks and anecdotes that fill in the characters’ inner lives, giving us insight into their actions and letting them fit together in new configurations. It’s a beautiful, clever film, very well-played by the cast, but unexpectedly subdued in its style. While the storyline still contains some real shocks, the film itself is mature and almost stately, lingering on the tenderness between the characters, the repeated image of a tear-stained cheek.
It feels strangely slight for Almodovar, but there’s a richness that draws us in. This is a film about a developing friendship between two damaged men that catches both of them off guard by its resilience. Without ever being obvious, Almodovar gives us glimpses into the characters, even if they’re in a coma! There are lots of odd sequences that add texture -abstract ballet sequences, an extended silent movie scene that goes pornographically surreal. There’s so much going on beneath the surface that you can hardly take it all in.