The Human Voice Review – BFI London Film Festival 2020
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Tilda Swinton
Based on the Jean Cocteau play of the same name, The Human Voice is a new short film from legendary Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar.
Almodóvar, who brought us the beautiful Pain and Glory last year, has directed many short films before, however, The Human Voice is his first in over a decade and it’s also his debut film in the English language.
The film sees Almodóvar recruit Tilda Swinton for the nameless leading role which she performs in almost complete isolation from any other actors, that is apart from Dash the dog.
Awaiting the return of her lover, Swinton’s character becomes restless in her stylish apartment until she receives a phone call; it’s then that she begins to speak her mind as we see and hear her converse with her partner.
The Style of Almodóvar
The Human Voice features much of Almodóvar’s trademark style and character.
Whether it’s the use of vibrant colours, the striking set design or the heavy presence of melodrama it’s unmistakably an Almodóvar film and his directorial flair is felt throughout the short running time.
His love of pop culture is evident through the books on the shelves and the films on the table of his set, with small touches like this offering a fun insight into both director and character.
He’s able to inject more energy and life into this thirty-minute short film than many directors can manage to achieve in a feature-length production.
The dramatic score at the beginning of the film coupled with the artistic opening credits immediately secure your attention and help to build excitement and anticipation of what is to come.
Enter Tilda Swinton.
The Sensation of Swinton
Swinton is unsurprisingly fantastic.
She’s a seasoned actress and it’s always a joy to see her in anything but it feels like a truly cinematic event to see her work with Almodóvar.
Her role is challenging in that she has no one to play off against on-screen.
The bulk of the film is a phone conversation between her character and her on-screen partner, however, this is a one-sided conversation for the audience as we only get to hear what Swinton’s character is saying.
This means that Swinton is required to convey both sides of the conversation based on her reactions and the delivery of each subsequent line of dialogue.
She handles this challenge excellently, effortlessly captivating the audience with her passionate and involved performance.
The Long and Short of it
The Human Voice brilliantly demonstrates both Swinton’s ability as an actress and Almodóvar’s talent for directing and specifically in this instance in a second language.
It should be noted as well that Almodóvar also writes the screenplay here, and with one that is often so reliant on dialogue this should fill audiences with hope and confidence for his next film, a feature-length English language adaptation of Lucia Berlin’s short story collection, A Manual for Cleaning Women.
The Human Voice feels like a teaser of what is to come in that future feature-length production; however, it has plenty of substance to standalone and has more than enough merit as its own narrative.
However, the biggest compliment that I can give this short film is that I wish it was feature-length.
Swinton and Almodóvar collaborate beautifully here, creating an extremely habitable environment for audiences and characters to explore.
It’s a superb English language debut from Almodóvar and a riveting short film success.
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