on 25 January 2011
Okay, 'Flower Of My Secret' isn't the most famous Almodovar film. I guess anyone thinking of buying it will already have seen 'Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown', 'Volver', 'Talk to Her', 'Bad Education' and 'All About My Mother'. Which is fine. All of the above are fantastic. 'Flower Of My Secret' is a must-buy simply because it's as good as any Almodovar movie. It strips away most of the director's most obvious preoccupations - I think this one has a zero tranny count, for example - and tells a simpler story with beauty, delicacy and style. Beautifully written, shot and acted, 'Flower Of My Secret' deserves to be better known.
on 18 July 2007
I really liked this film and found the main character Leo captivating. I also found her journey through the streets of Madrid really interesting, and the links between the characters very interesting. Leo's mother and sister were both excellent in this and really funny with their constant arguments, and taunts about the family's madness gene. I find the plot flowed well and retained interest throughout; though it was much more restrained than Almodovar's other work. I think at the heart of it was a person frustrated with the fiction of their lives and a number of characters in this film wanted to throw off the falsity and deceit in their lives, including Leo's best friend.
An interesting point - the plot of 'Leo's' dark novel 'The Freezer' is remarkably similar to Almodovar's recent film Volver, with the daughter who murders her father when he tries to rape her and her mother, who helps hide the murder by burying the body in a deep freezer unit in a neighbouring restaurant.
The Flower Of My Secret is an attractive Almodovar film, if not one of his best. It does have a big plus in Marisa Paredes, who also starred in High Heels and All About My Mother, and other of his films besides. She is a superb actress of both depth and style, and it seems fitting that she should carry one of his more serious meditations on a woman's life, in this case a writer called Leo, writing under the pseudonym Amanda Gris. It is focused on a crisis point where she finally realises that her marriage is dead; at the same time, she tires of the light romantic fictions that have been her source of income. Feeling she can no longer write them, she goes to a newspaper editor, who takes a professional and personal interest in her, which is a happy chance for her. Other themes also come to bear, especially the family and the return to roots. This is given a comic treatment in the form of her mother, played by Chus Lampreave, and her sister, played by another Almodovar regular, Rossy De Palma. The two are constantly bickering and provide the film with some of its funniest moments, Lampreave giving one of her best performances alongside What Have I Done To Deserve This, but here having a bit more depth. Mothers and sons also feature: Leo's publisher's son is a drug-addict who gets in a very strange situation with Leo in the opening minutes; her maid is a flamenco dancer who performs a number in a theatre with her son that has disconcertingly incestuous overtones. He then goes and throws himself at Leo having confessed to stealing from her, a bizarre interlude that, if nothing else, shows her to be superbly openminded, and gracious in turning down a pretty hot offer ... The film opens with a staged scene of two doctors telling a mother her son is dead, anticipating All About My Mother. These disparate themes make it a stranger film than it sometimes appears, as the tone seems a bit like a soap opera. It is fascinating to piece them together with elements in other Almodovar films, while the emotion without camp means it could appeal to viewers who don't fully connect to his usual more highly coloured style.
on 28 September 2015
Few people seemed to like Almodóvar’s 1995 melodrama, The Flower of My Secret at the time of its release. It represented an unexpected departure from the director’s usual outrageously bouncy sex-filled, drug-fuelled gender-bending. Coming particularly after the indescribably wacky Kika (1993) and that film’s jokey rape and air-born semen, this film’s sober tale of the break-up of a middle-aged woman’s marriage seems on casual viewing positively dull and not Almodóvar-like at all. Examined closely however and we discover that as much as the style has changed (frantic kinetic cutting giving way to long slow scenes of Bergman-esque psycho-drama), the film is still brimming over with this idiosyncratic director’s usual preoccupations. Indeed, looking back from 20 years on, this film emerges as a remarkably courageous achievement vital to the change in direction Almodóvar took. We appreciate it is the absolutely straight melodramatic ‘woman’s picture’ he needed to make before he could re-integrate his trademark transgressive concerns into the serious and altogether deeper metaphysical context of his next five highly acclaimed films, from Live Flesh (1998) through to Volver (2006).
The most obvious trademark Almodóvar ingredient to endure is the portrayal of a woman in emotional crisis. Very much Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) minus the farce, the film tells the story of Leo (the wonderful Marisa Paredes), a writer of soppy romantic ‘women’s fiction’ published under the pseudonym ‘Amanda Gris’. Disenchanted by her soldier husband Paco (Imanol Arias) deserting her to fight in the Bosnian war, aware she is child-less (emphasized by her apartment overlooking a school playground), and reliant on her one and only friend Betty (Carmen Elias), she feels life has left her sitting on the shelf. She yearns for her husband to return. Something that can never happen, this makes the film an essay on self-denial among other things. She also wants to throw off her Amanda Gris flowery nonsense and write serious literature about the real world, but is stymied by contractural obligations to her reluctant publisher. She loses self-esteem and is slipping into alcoholism. What saves her are those other Almodóvar staples, female friendship/solidarity and family. Betty does everything for her from taking off her boots to introducing her to culture editor of a national newspaper Angel (Juan Echanove). Betty also has been carrying on an affair with Paco which far from breaking up Leo’s marriage, simply makes her face up to something which has been dead for years. After the film’s crucial confrontation between wife and husband (she all rosy-eyed self-denial, he all bitter nihilism), Betty gives up Paco in favor of supporting her friend. Leo is also helped greatly by Angel whose attempts at romance makes her feel her own worth as a woman. But it’s a trip with her mother (the wonderfully characterful Chus Lampreave encouraged to play as if she were Almodóvar’s own mother) back to her home village in La Mancha (Almodóvar’s own homeland) which really revives her spirits. As well as the virtues, the problems of family are beautifully conveyed in a sharp slanging-match double act between mum and Leo’s sister Rosa (Rossy De Palma) who live together supported by Leo in a Madrid apartment. A return to roots and a re-affirmation of a Spaniard’s emotional link to rural village life – a poem recited by the mother in the car, a weaving sequence with 6 old ladies (including Leo) in the village replete with a folk song, and most importantly flamenco bolero dance rhythms from the opening credits through to the end – are recurring themes throughout all later Almodóvar. As the mother says, when you have lost your man either to death of divorce, you must return home to get in touch with yourself again. That, coupled with the support of Angel is what sets Leo back on the road to recovery.
Another Almodóvar preoccupation which gets very subtle expression in this film is the director’s concern for meta-fiction – the foregrounding of narrative construction and the use of a second voice detached from, but still representing Almodóvar’s own as over-arching writer-director. In this case the voice belongs to Betty. Note the strange prologue featuring a mother (Kiti Manver) being convinced by two doctors into letting them use her dead son’s body for organ donations. The camera focuses on this scene for a long time and convinces us that the mother must be the main character of the film we are about to watch. But then Almodóvar cuts to our actual main character Leo waking up in her apartment. Cut back to the mother and we realize that what we have seen is being shot by a second camera with Betty the psychiatrist/director of a seminar being given to an audience of doctors. Only later when Leo bursts in to talk to Betty do we appreciate that she is the film’s main character, not the mother or Betty. The mother and the two doctors disappear never to be seen again (at least not until All About My Mother which features the same situation with different actors) and Betty seems to take a back seat as the film then proceeds to follow Leo. But does Betty take a back seat? Look closely and we realize the narrative is spun entirely by her as a psychiatrist/director doppelgänger for Almodóvar himself. It is Betty who introduces Leo to Angel and it is Betty who sleeps with Paco to in effect wake Leo up to the falsity of her marriage. She was Paco’s psychiatrist for years before she started sleeping with him, and Leo’s crisis is resolved in psycho-analytic terms in a kind of therapy. Leo’s neurosis in the first half of the film is that she is two people in one. On one hand she is Amanda Gris - a sentimental romantic wanting to believe everything is rosy and will work out fine once Paco returns to her. On the other hand she is a hard realist who is burning to get in touch with her real emotions. Betty the psychiatrist director solves her neurosis by forcing her to throw off her delusions (by sleeping with Paco) and then by paring away her Amanda Gris identity onto Angel who agrees happily to ghost write the remainder of the novels demanded by her publisher. This concern with meta-fiction started for Almodóvar in The Law of Desire (1987), is stated subtly through Kika, this film and All About My Mother, before assuming more aggressive form in Bad Education (2004) and especially in Broken Embraces (2009).
Returning to The Flower of My Secret, we do notice that despite the strong presence of Almodóvar’s themes and preoccupations, the character of Angel is unusual for this director in being straight and almost type-cast as ‘emotional rock’ in much the same way as happens to the male characters in Stella Dallas (1937, King Vidor) or Mildred Pierce (1945, Michael Curtiz). It is no coincidence that Almodóvar depicts Angel’s romantic advances in terms borrowed from other films. Angel directly invokes both The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder) and Casablanca (1943, Michael Curtiz) and most obviously closes the film with a direct quote to Rich and Famous (1981, George Cukor) which happens to be another film about writers (played by Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset) who play the two halves of Leo’s character in the present film. Angel is a character who has also been scarred by life. He seems to drink more as Leo drinks less in the course of the film, but the lack of transgression about him to which Leo is finally attracted through her return back to her roots is what gives this film it’s seriousness. With a series of brilliantly shot psycho-dramatic scenes Almodóvar takes up big metaphysical themes without his tongue ever being in cheek. We get a quiet and understated meditation on loss, self-denial, self-preservation, personal rejuvenation, love, family, generosity and faith. Post-modern as Almodóvar fundamentally is, his films are always a grab-bag of cultural references both high and low, and even though the Hollywood ‘woman’s weepie’ is the first port of call, the film’s tone recalling Ingmar Bergman (Persona , Autumn Sonata ) through Woody Allen (Another Woman ) resonates strongly. In an interview on this disc Almodóvar (never the modest one!) says “I am as good as Allen and Bergman at directing women”. To which I can only add that he’s not bad at directing men either! This is a wonderful film. Best buy it in Optimum World’s Vol.2 box set which also includes Matador, The Law of Desire and Kika. Outstanding picture quality and absurdly cheap price, I strongly urge you to buy it…
Sweet, and very well acted. This is much less wild and outrageous than earlier Almodovar, but compensates by having more real emotion. Still, this has two of his usual key elements -- dramatic use of intense color, and a melodramatic, almost soapy, story. It's clear he loves melodrama at the same time he gently pokes fun at it.
But in 'Flower of My Secret' the soap has more underpinnings in humanity, with subtler behavior and humor. Technically he gets even better with this film. It's beautiful, shot in a more subdued style than his earlier work. Not a great movie, but a good, entertaining, human one that paves the way to his later fully 'real' and moving masterpieces like 'Talk to Her'. Lovely performances.
There seem to be two distinct groups among Almodovar fans. Those who prefer his earlier, wilder, more genre busting work, and those who prefer his more recent, subtler films. I'm in the second group, but can completely understand those who feel differently. And where you fall on that scale is likely to have a big impact on your reaction to this film.