“The Human Voice” is only 30 minutes long. But what a half-hour it is.
A mesmerizing mini-masterpiece, it’s the first English-language movie from Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, who revamped Jean Cocteau’s 1930 monodrama for the 21st century screen and cast as its singular centerpiece the shapeshifting Tilda Swinton, arguably the greatest actress of our time.
She plays a character simply named Woman, who is sitting around a warehouse studio apartment that she shared with a lover of a few years, waiting for him to arrive, say goodbye and take his bags that she has packed.
But he calls rather than turns up. Like the play, the film then becomes a monologue, with Swinton talking and talking, pouring out her feelings of abandonment and acceptance, creating a soldiering-through fantasy of her days of waiting for him, then revealing the reality of what happened.
Unlike the play, the calls comes on her phone, her earpods freeing her to move around the apartment and the warehouse as she talks with Jose — and freeing Almodovar and cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine to explore the apartment from both above and ground level, exposing the director’s visually popping, brightly colored sets.
And, in keeping with Almodovar’s style, Swinton turns up in a range of strikingly designed costumes, including a couple outfits in his trademark bright-red.
Those outfits alone make it nearly impossible to take your eyes off Swinton. Her stunning, emotional performance does the rest, locking in the viewer from the film’s opening in a hardware store where she buys an ax, to its fiery conclusion.
There’s a central character in “The Human Voice” who wasn’t in the play. It’s Jose’s dog, who runs around the place trying to find his master, forlornly abandoned, just like the woman.
A 30-minute movie isn’t long enough to be screened alone in theaters. So it is, appropriately, playing with “Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown,” Almodovar’s 1988 breakthrough comedy that looks at another woman dealing with the departure of a lover.
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