The Human Voice Review (BFI London Film Festival 2020)

Acclaimed director Pedro Almodóvar’s latest The Human Voice – a short but sharp film adaptation of the theatre production of the same name – hinges on its central performance. Lucky for him then that he has Tilda Swinton fronting this (almost) one-woman show.

Because it’s Swinton’s whirlwind turn that really sells this off-kilter tale of love and depression. She plays an unnamed woman who fruitlessly waits for a lover who will never return, a torturous wait that sends her spiralling into a frenzy of anger, sorrow and vengefulness. Barring an opening trip to a hardware store to pick up an axe (which she later uses to take out some frustration on her ex’s suit), her story unfolds in a single location, predominantly told through a phone call which we only see and hear one side of. 

And as minimalist as the film’s story is, so too is its setting, a warehouse, empty other than a roofless apartment set. It’s understated staging befitting of the production’s theatrical roots; the apartment is the stage, and the ex-lover is the unwitting audience. The level of detail tucked into such a small package is quite impressive, the pristine and colour-filled design of the apartment starkly contrasting with the often fractious and dark themes. Each of Almodóvar’s stylistic choices are made with performance and character at the forefront of his mind: Swinton is given the floor to eke out her character’s impassioned emotions, and she well and truly runs with it. 

Rating (out of 5):

The Human Voice was part of the programme at the BFI London Film Festival 2020.

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