A course in miracles

Miracles abound in today's movies. But usually they're manufactured miracles, cooked up with special effects in fantasies we're not meant to confuse with the real world.

A different kind of miracle happens in "Talk to Her," a new film by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, which opens today after earning superlative reviews at film festivals. It's not a miracle in the strict sense, since it's generated by human love rather than religious faith. But this doesn't stop it from being as moving as anything on screen this year.

The main characters of this unusual drama are two Spanish men whose paths first cross at a dance performance.

One is a nurse who has spent several years of his life caring for a young woman left in a neverending coma after a traffic accident. The other is in love with a female bullfighter who enters a similar condition after a mishap in the ring.

Both patients have been declared hopeless by their doctors, and the nurse's conviction that tenderness and devotion can make a difference gets him branded as crazy by almost everyone.

The movie's title comes from the nurse's advice to his new friend when they meet again at the hospital where the women are being tended. "Talk to her," he says, convinced that love and understanding must always have healing value, even when the recipient appears oblivious to human sense.

I won't reveal the transforming event that takes place late in the film, but I will commend Almodóvar for not making a big deal out of it, or congratulating himself for being sensitive and compassionate.

The story continues, and much of what happens in the intricate plot is grim, discouraging, even perverse. There's no mistaking the ray of brightness that comes shining through its heart, though.

"Talk to Her" is one of Almodóvar's most challenging pictures, jumping around in time and sending a large gallery of characters through a wide variety of situations. It also contains a sexual fantasy that many viewers may find too weirdly explicit for comfort.

The acting is excellent, by a largely Spanish cast plus American actress Geraldine Chaplin, whom we haven't seen enough of lately.

Admirers of Almodóvar's best pictures, such as "All About My Mother" and the amazing "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," will find him again at the peak of his powers.

Rated R for nudity and sex.

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