Best of 2021: Dora Endre’s list of movies IV.

~ a series by Dora Endre // IV. The Human Voice, directed by Pedro Almodóvar ~

Times have changed, and the “old normal” seems to be part of a different galaxy in more than one way. The movie industry is no exception.

The pandemic redrew the demarcation lines, so to speak. New rules and regulations, higher cost and risk factors, as well as ways of release came into play. Many of this year’s movies have gone straight to VOD or streaming. In the very last weeks of this year, high-profile blockbusters and mainstream movies are hitting theatres from “The House of Gucci” (Ridley Scott) to “West Side Story” (Steven Spielberg). Hollywood giants and their aspirations for the award season will soon be in the spotlight.

Now that the new year has started, I hereby present my choices for the best movies of 2021. Movies that might not have their titles flashing red on the radar but bear with complex stories that are worth to emerge in. What is it that they all share? A sharp focus on the importance of human contact, and a deep appreciation of all human rapports we have in our lives. Hug your loved ones now that it is possible, as long as it is possible.

  1. The Human Voice (Spain-USA)

“I suffered like an animal but I enjoyed like an animal.”

The Human Voice is a short film, coming in right at 30 minutes. But what a virtuoso half hour! The Human Voice is “freely based” on a play by prolific French auteur, Jean Cocteau.

Tilda Swinton plays an eccentric, nameless woman who is just about to separate from her partner of four years. She packed his suitcases and now goes through an intense grieving process, which makes her switch moods in a second, drifting from one extreme to the other. She is furious, childish, crazy, loving, resigned. Most of the film consists of a phone call between the main character and her former lover. The audience, just like in the play and its famous adaptation with Ingrid Bergman, only hears the protagonist’s side of the conversation and sees her reactions. Swinton gives an enthralling, powerhouse performance and delivers a beautiful long-form monologue. The protagonist truly is a “mixture of madness and melancholy” as she says about herself.

The film is set in an unnamed district of Madrid where firemen, shop assistants and pedestrians create an authentic Spanish atmosphere. The story is about demolishing and deconstructing not only a relationship, and a chapter of the protagonist’s life but also about the disassembling of Almodóvar’s own career and rethinking his own ways of telling stories. Swinton’s character lives in a grey, industrial warehouse, which resembles a film studio in many ways. This goes directly against the usual, Almodóvarian vibrant color scheme. Yet the director is brave enough to counterbalance his signature filmmaking choices, and go even a step further. He uses Brechtian tools of alienation, and makes sure the audience sees, none of his movie is rooted in reality. He constantly breaks the fourth wall and goes over the top to yell “this is nothing but make-believe”. His main character is an actress, living on a film set.

The Human Voice is colorful in most of its design, has wonderful intensity, and a big dose of melodrama. Almodóvar does what I enjoy the most when it comes to classical source materials. He makes it lose none of the play’s power and layers yet spices it up with relevance and characteristics of the contemporary.

It is a deeply human and elegant film with a firm focus on levels and forms of femininity, and a wicked sense of humor. Production designer Antxon Gomez (Pain and Glory, The Skin I Live In) does a stunning work by creating a set that lives, breathes, roars just like a human being. A true masterclass in directing, acting, set and costume design.
By the end of the film, the protagonist gains enough confidence to completely demolish her past-self and find a new type of independence and will for life. Abandoning toxic relationships is hard just the same, says Cocteau and says Almodóvar. The Human Voice is a love letter for love itself. Love that we feel towards others and towards ourselves.

Where to watch: it is streaming on Mubi, Mubi Amazon Channel, and Virgin TV Go.

Come back tomorrow for the next part! Here you can read Part I, Part II and Part III.

Dora Endre is a New York based Hungarian film and theatre artist with an extensive educational background (media, international communications, filmmaking, acting, editing). For the past four years she was lucky enough to collaborate with other creatives on a number of short movies, commercials, music videos, musicals, dance and off-Broadway shows. She loves to wear many hats but primarily works as a director. She also loves guacamole.