Two characters are mourning the man who has left them – his lover, and his dog. The fluffy creature mopes in his particular canine fashion. The unnamed woman buys an axe, paces up and down her apartment and eyes the pills in her medicine cabinet.

The man – unseen and unheard – calls, leading to the lengthy and one-sided phone conversation that forms the bulk of Pedro Almodovar’s rivetting The Human Voice. The woman’s fragile mental state, fierce passion and floor-scraping submissiveness all emerge through the phone call. Emotions swirls about in the impeccably designed set of a typically Almodovaresque apartment, filled with fire engine-red gadgets, perfectly coordinated furnishings, and vivid paintings of women in various stages of swooning. The set is revealed to be part of a sound stage – a teasing detail that rubs out the line between what is staged and what is being experienced.

The English-language The Human Voice is “freely based” on the Jean Cocteau play of the same name, declare the opening credits. The 30-minute short was premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2020 and is being streamed in India on BookMyShow Stream. Filled with empathy for the woman’s heartbreak as well as mordant wit over her self-lacerating, The Human Voice provides an apt summary and continuation of themes explored by the Spanish director over the past 40 years.

British actor Tilda Swinton takes her place in a long line of irresistibly conflicted and complicated Almodovar heroines. Swinton’s terrific performance is a master class in holding on and letting go. She is ably backed by her canine companion, whose mute grief merges with her voluble anguish.

The Human Voice (2020).