Sunday, May 23, 2010

Talk to Her

The weather didn't cooperate today for Smart Guy and me to go skydiving, so after giving up on our hopes for blue skies, I finally decided to watch one of the Netflix movies that had been languishing on my coffee table for a few weeks.

I chose to watch Talk to Her, a Spanish language movie made in 2002. It's a very complex and interesting dark comedy. That link will take you to Rotton Tomatoes, which gives it a 92% freshness rating. I liked the movie a lot, but I wouldn't say it was one of my all-time favorites. The reason I wanted to write this post about it is that it triggered something I've noticed many times before: the difference in ethnic temperaments reflected in movies made by directors of different nationalities. Pedro Almodovar, the director of this movie, is (I guess) rather well known for avante-garde movies that deal with melodrama and obsession, teasing truth out of the absurd.

In this movie, a sensitive man who cries at the drop of a hat also writes articles and travel guides, and he falls in love with a female bullfighter. She ends up in a coma from a bullfight gone bad. The other couple in the movie is a male nurse, Benigno, who falls in love with a ballerina who is also in a coma from having been hit by a car. The men become friends, and the movie revolves around these four people. Almodovar uses flashbacks to develop some of the relationships. An excerpt from one of the reviews:
In the end, some of the lovers live and some die, and it becomes obvious exactly who the real cripples are. There is perhaps a smidgen too much patness in Almodovar’s fantastic script, something a little too easy about the way he wraps this up, but he doesn’t shrink from raising some problematic questions. Benigno is a creepy character, who nevertheless touches us — with his Peter Lorre eyes and dewy softness, he reminds us of a certain confused type of young man we all encountered in high school or college. He is all hurt and yearning and he uses his “devotion” as a kind of weapon.
So, as you can probably see from this description, the movie is so... Latin! I remember the time I spent in Mexico when I learned about telenovelas, those melodramatic soap operas that are watched by millions of people. (That link will take you to the Wikipedia page that compares telenovela style by country. It's fascinating reading.)

But what strikes me is the difference in temperament in movie styles by nationality. I recently watched a German movie, The Lives of Others (the link is to my review of the movie) and sometime last year I watched and thoroughly enjoyed a French movie, "I've Loved You So Long." The comparison of the style and feeling of these movies is, to my mind, strongly flavored by the nationality of the directors.

It made me wonder how much of what I experience in life is colored by my own American nationality. How real is this premise? What's your take on it?


  1. Even among Americans the emotional response varies in different races and ethnicities. I witnessed it when I was working. Certain groups react stoically and others dissolve into a heap as a reaction to stress, illness, and death. It's a learned response passed on generation after generation.

  2. I inherited a rather matter of fact view of things from my mother's side of the family who are German and Danish.

    From my father's side of the family who are all Armenian, I have inherited a more dramatic point of view.

    I guess all of that makes me unpredictable!

  3. I enjoyed reading your last few posts. I got a lot of information on your post and the comments on homeopathy. I also loved your pictures of your walk to Blanchard Mountain – what views you have! so outstanding. I also like to keep track of baby eaglet, what a neat infant!. I am reading a book written in 1893 by a French man who came to America for several months. I am surprised that so many of his remarks would be the same today. It would take too long here to explain but the American character was developed a long time ago. Actually Dickens came on a visit too and his remarks were quite similar. Of course these remarks are for the “general public.” I mean these are true for most people, but depending of one own family, it may be different, whether the parents were from Europe, Japan or they are a 5th or more generation American. For example even though I was born in France I do not have the full French character because my father was Armenian and all is family was too, and not from France, so that made a big difference in the way I was brought up. But I still think I am very French and it can be a problem with people here – I mean misunderstandings are easy.

  4. DJan, how do you define American nationality? It varies from region to region, from generation to generation, from race to race, from wealth to poverty, etc. Education or the lack thereof, also...

  5. In my case I wouldn't know... I'm such a Euro-American blend I don't realy know where the French-educated, Mexican-raised Spaniard starts and the American ends!

    I don't think I "feel" differently when watching an American vs a different nationality movie, except to the point where the movie is taking me on a different path. Most European films I've seen (a lot!) are very direct, very real with emotions, sexuality, relationships. They don't hide human nature. Whereas sadly many Hollywood films are limited by the Ratings committee ("oh no not rated-R!") and sometimes feel flat, artificial (and I'm not talking about the big summer blockbusters, which let's face it are just for fun, and Hollywood does indeed do much better than Europe).

    You haven't exactly picked my favourite Almodovar movie of his recent crop. While I admired the work and thought it was an excellent film when it came out, it was creepy enough and had me on edge so that I haven't felt a desire to re-watch it. Now Todo Sobre Mi Madre or Volver on the other hand... much better!

    And I also really enjoyed The Lives of Others! Sad the main actor died shortly thereafter.

    Oh, and there is more to Spanish cinema than Almodovar! You should check out stuff by Alejandro Amenabar, Julio Medem, Fernando Trueba, Vicente Aranda...

  6. I think I saw, "I've loved you so long" But I can't remember it. I love foreign movies though. My all time fav is, "Pan's Labyrinth"

  7. Wow!!! What a profound post, DJ! All of this out of watching a foreign film! You amaze me! Thank you for making me THINK!!!! I love it!! And love you, too! ~Janine XO

  8. There certainly is a difference. I love Australian movies. The atmosphere in them is so good. e.g. Walkabout. French films I love, e.g. Amelie and English films of course. I particularly love the older films, which have a good storyline and not too many special effects. I always go for plot over special effects and I'm not a lover of action movies either. I was disappointed in Avatar. Larry loved it. I asked myself why I didn't much like it and I think it was because the characters weren't developed enough for my liking. Just my opinion.
    Blessings, Star

  9. An interesting observation DJan. When I lived in Alaska I rented a lot of foreign films, I still do on occasion. There is definitely a difference in the temperament of movies from different countries. My favorites have always been French and Italian films.

    Even thought my Spanish is not all that good I got caught up in a telenovela while we were in Cabo one year.

  10. This could be said of all of life's experiences-we interpret it all through the filter of our own upbringing/beliefs/etc. Interesting that you find it so noticeable in films, though. I haven't watched enough foreign films to have picked up on that. Heck, lately I haven't watched enough movies period!

  11. Between ethnic upbringing and inborn personality, I think we all react in completely different ways to what happens to us. It's what makes the world "go round".

    It would behoove us to try harder to understand that everyone is different but I think that is getting to be impossible in this day and age. It's one of the reasons I have such a hard time watching the news anymore. Everyone's views seem to be "set in stone".


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