Review: The Human Voice

Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, a woman (Tilda Swinton) watches time passing next to the suitcases of her ex-lover (who is supposed to come pick them up, but never arrives) and a restless dog who doesn’t understand that his master has abandoned him.

The combination of Almodóvar and Swinton just makes perfect sense, the former a very visual, vibrant filmmaker and the latter an iconic, mesmeric actress, they’re a match made in heaven and it’s only a shame that this is a short film and not a feature. The colours used in this film are so striking, they’re delightfully in your face from the start, especially with the majority taking place in this beautifully decorated set that somehow simultaneously feels pulled directly out of the 1970s yet modern. It’s sublime work from production designer Antxón Gómez and set decorator Vicent Díaz, both regular collaborators of Almodóvar, there are so many different touches that you’d probably have to watch it several times to really catch all the references and meaning.

It’s made even more intriguing by the fact that it isn’t your average apartment, it’s a set in a warehouse, just the idea to begin with of this depressive, aging actress literally living on a film set is perfectly old Hollywood and the story follows that vein with its themes. The creation of Swinton’s character, who doesn’t officially have a name other than ‘Woman’, immediately calls back to characters like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard and Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, women with a lot of personality and dedication but are plagued by fragility and insecurity. The writing befits that classic theme of aging actresses and women in positions that always got a lot of attention, feeling now rejected and unloved, the passion that the writing puts into this woman’s distaste for being thrown aside creates some fantastic dialogue and draws the physicality out into Swinton’s performance. It also doesn’t give itself away immediately, it gives you a general idea of the situation then slowly reveals the details in a satisfying and well paced manner.

Tilda Swinton has an undeniably entrancing presence, and this portrayal brings out a wildness to her vivacity, it’s tense and angry, she brings this hugely unpredictable edge to her that’s gripping to watch. It almost feels as if she could extend this performance and turn it into a one woman show, it’s simply gratifying and enjoyable to watch, you don’t even really think about the fact that she’s the only real character other than a man who sells her an axe and the dog because you don’t need anyone else.

As if there wasn’t plenty going for the film already, its homage to cinema, not just the 70s becomes very clear when they show the pile of DVDs on their coffee table, including Shoplifters, Phantom Thread, Jackie and Kill Bill, just seeing Swinton hold a copy of Kore-eda’s film is practically a film fan’s kryptonite. Of course it plays into her being an actress but it strongly feels like a larger nod to a love of cinema, there’s a quality to Almodóvar’s direction that entirely embraces different decades of cinema and has an overall appreciation of the art. His direction is fantastic throughout, it builds that growing tension and frustration so well, speeding up the pace as it goes along and just generally capturing some iconic shots that are a joy to see. It impressively captures that sense of isolation and a lonely existence while allowing that strong personality Swinton brings to her character to fill the screen. It’s pushed further by being topped with a wonderful score from Alberto Iglesias that’s playful, adventurous and even romantic, it embraces the drama but doesn’t let things get too dark.

The Human Voice has such a strong, vibrant personality running rampant throughout, the visual is impeccable and Tilda Swinton is as beguiling and entrancing as ever, bringing out her wild side and giving such a sharp performance that she could easily hold your attention for two hours let alone 30-minutes. This cast and crew is a perfect match, even the dog gives a great performance, it’s full of energy, colour and it’s incredibly stylish.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival –
Originally slated for 7th November, unfortunately you’ll now have to wait a little longer with no new date confirmed at time of writing

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