Short films hold an odd place in our modern culture. On one hand, our ADD-ridden selves crave short form content- tik toks, youtube clips, whatever you can snack on for a few minutes before getting back to work. And more and more people are choosing to watch a tv series over a feature film; features seem to require too much investment these days. Too much mental energy, too much time, too much work.
And yet, short films, which one would think fit the modern sensibility bill nicely, are something we avoid, like that awkward relative you have no idea what to talk about over Thanksgiving dinner. Our brains can do the two-hour movie or the 3-minute clip, but they can’t handle what’s in between- which is too bad, because that in-between space is full of creative possibilities. A 2-hour narrative forces the writer to build a structure that keeps the viewer interested: you need some kind of conflict, you need something to happen, a twist, a resolution… but with a short film, it can just be about whatever it wants to be about and that’s that. No need for exposition, no need for resolution- it just is.
Pedro Almodovar’s The Human Voice is exactly that. Basically a Tilda Swinton monologue, it’s loosely based on Jean Cocteau’s play of the same name (which has a pretty interesting history itself.) But this version is very much Tilda- she clearly weaves so much of her own self into this character that you’d swear the whole thing was autobiographical even when you know it isn’t.
Swinton’s character spends most of her time talking on the phone to a very recent Ex, for whom she is clearly still very much infatuated with. And that’s that; though there’s a narrative left there for you to piece together, it’s very much about her state of mind, and what that says about her as a person: an actress whose entire world is artifice, suffering for real, as we human animals tend to do. Oh, and there’s a dog. Short, not exactly sweet, but ultimately very moving and beautifully performed by Tilda, Almodovar’s mini film is just as good as any of his major ones.
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