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Jean Cocteau's one-act play, La Voix humaine [The Human Voice], consists entirely of a monologue by a woman engaged in a final phone conversation with her lover. Alone in her room, she desperately clings to the telephone as her only link to the man who has left her for someone else. Although this agonizing portrait of abandonment and despair bears little resemblance to Almodóvar's multi-charactered comedic romp through the streets of Madrid in Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios [Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown], Cocteau's play has been named as the source of inspiration for that film. In various interviews Almodóvar has explained that his original intention had been to adapt the play to the screen, but due to its brevity, he needed to expand the material to feature film length. This led him to devise a story of the forty-eight hours leading up to the phone call. In the process, said Almodóvar, "Cocteau's La Voix humaine had utterly disappeared from the text - apart from its original concept, of course: a woman sitting next to a suitcase of memories waiting miserably for a phone call from the man she loves" (Strauss 80). Despite this seeming dismissal of Cocteau's work, however, Almodóvar insists that the film "truly is a version ofLa Voix humaine" because the play "remains in latent form" (Vidal 258). Linda Hutcheon's A Theory of Parody provides insights into how that latent form operates within Almodóvar's film.
Copyright Literature/Film Quarterly, used with permission.
Willem, Linda M. "Almodóvar on the Verge of Cocteau's La Voix humaine," Literature/Film Quarterly 26 (1998): 142-47.