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‘The Human Voice’ review; Dir. Pedro Almodóvar (2020)

For four decades, Pedro Almodóvar has made a name for himself as an auteur of decadent Spanish cinema. While most foreign filmmakers make the transition to Hollywood, Almodóvar has steered far away. At least, until now. But even the acclaimed director’s first English language film is far from conventional, made on Almodóvar’s own accord: in lockdown and only 30-minutes long.

Courtesy of the Pathe UK

Adapting Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play ‘La Voix Humaine’, The Human Voice stars Tilda Swinton as a woman going through the several stages of a breakup – from denial to catharsis and even buying an axe (so just the typical stuff). She’s waiting for a phone call from someone; it’s from her ex-lover, to be precise. But the dread of it is too much, even leading to an attempt at suicide early on. It doesn’t succeed. When the call inevitably does arrive, the woman is forced to fervently reconcile with this relationship that has now faded.

Shot in Madrid over the Summer (under COVID-friendly restrictions), The Human Voice is quintessential Almodóvar for anyone familiar with the director’s work – vibrant colours; grand set design; self-indulgent writing. It’s the use of aesthetic that is most apparent here; production designer Antxón Gómez’s sets are exquisite and colourful while Sonia Grande’s costumes are luscious and distinct. From the velvet dresses to the ornamental bookcase drenched in green, this is expectedly a visually appealing piece of work. There is a sense of artifice to the proceedings as a result; it’s so clear that this was crafted on a soundstage but the images are so lavish and impressive that it makes no difference how over-polished the design is. It’s stunning to look at nonetheless

Complimenting the visual splendour is a spellbinding performance from Swinton. Some of the writing can feel self-indulgent and contrived but it works within the extravagance Almodóvar concocts in his decorum. And Swinton feels at home amidst the decadent world; her character owns copies of Phantom Thread and Jackie on Blu-ray and you can’t help but wonder if there’s a personal touch there somewhere. To say that Swinton commands the screen feels like an understatement considering she does that in any role regardless, but her work in The Human Voice is so captivating and intense that you will not be able to look away for a second. Seeing as she’s the only person in the film and the script is a monologue, it’s a testament to her craft that she can hold us in the palm of her hand for so long and make us feel so much in such a short space of time. You can’t help but wonder if The Human Voice exists purely as a showcase of Swinton’s versatile abilities. If so, that’s not a bad thing at all.

The Human Voice

Awais Irfan

Reviewed as part of NYFF 20


The visuals are exquisite and colourful, while Swinton commands the screen in Almodovar’s first English-language film.


For as long as I can remember, I have had a real passion for movies and for writing. I'm a superhero fanboy at heart; 'The Dark Knight' and 'Days of Future Past' are a couple of my favourites. I'm a big sci-fi fan too - 'Star Wars' has been my inspiration from the start; 'Super 8' is another personal favourite, close to my heart... I love movies. All kinds of movies. Lots of them too.


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