This film was previously reviewed in October 2020 as part of our London Film Festival coverage.

You could say a film about isolation, in 2020, is timely. But for all the many beats they have in common, forced separation and sudden grief leave different ashes in the mouth than abandonment. And it’s that last flavour of loss that makes The Human Voice rather more timeless – as ripe for adaptation now as when Jean Cocteau put pen to paper in 1930, and as relevant tomorrow.

It’s a free adaptation, and no-one could accuse Almodóvar of restraint. Tilda Swinton sweeps around the magazine-ready set-within-a-set first in huge, bell-shaped garments that toll noiselessly, and then in simple, bright clothes that emphasise her spare frame. She talks to her ex-lover on the phone and her clothing becomes softer, looser and more elaborately patterned; all the while, she gradually learns to lean in to her pain.

This short, powerful snippet of Cocteau is a long-held source of inspiration for Almodóvar, no stranger to exploring “the law of desire”. Whether deliberately or not, this particular take seems to chime in harmony with Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, too: the way its lead papers over uncomfortable truths with a flat, automated dignity until she can’t pretend – and a pathetic dog as an emotional proxy.

Look, we’ve seen it before, and we’ll see it again: women watching their veins metaphorically open, bleeding all over the ones who hurt them, and then apologising for the mess. Here, Almodóvar handles it with the proper cathartic note: with style, of course, but substance too.

If it begins with elaborately sad, art school indulgence, The Human Voice certainly ends on something that feels more fresh, tangible and hopeful. Almost entirely shot in English, and, of course, a short format, it suggests new beginnings for its director, too. 



CAST: Tilda Swinton, Dash The Dog

DIRECTOR: Pedro Almodóvar

WRITER: Pedro Almodóvar, based on the play by Jean Cocteau

SYNOPSIS: After her lover of four years decides to leave, a woman (Swinton) paces around the apartment they shared, talking to him on the phone.