Friday, October 13, 2006

The Flower of My Secret

by Ryland Walker Knight

This is the first Pedro Almodóvar movie I have actively disliked. It was the only film from the Viva Pedro! series I had not seen that Netflix had to offer so I quickly queued it after having enjoyed his MATADOR so much. The romanticism is there, the palatte as vibrant as any of his recent works and plenty of humor from Chus Lampreave as yet another strong-willed, stubborn mother. Yet, for all that flair, I wasn't distracted from the cliche-ridden, hackneyed plotline. I know, all of his films have cliches and spin out melodramatic stories. However the other films spin those tropes around and attack them, sometimes schematically, but always to lend pathos to otherwise outrageous characters. None of that is present here. It's a slight work by a major filmmaker who seemed to have one or two great ideas for images (a rally against the university's president is gorgeous & hilarious in spite of the tears Leo tries to hide) but no good angles on his transparent plot to flesh it out. All we get is a committed performance from Marisa Paredes as Leo, a performance plummed from real hurt and anger but is, ultimately, a pain to watch given how trite and humorless her dialogue is written. Perhaps he was trying to make a movie like the romance novels Leo writes under the pseudonym Amanda Gris but that does not work either: an attempt to comment on how fiction can inform us, teach us, but there are no valuable lessons here, which is a shame. Manuela Vargas plays Leo's faithful housekeeper Blanca with another obvious secret and Joaquin Cortes is her complicit son, Antonio. By the time all truths are revealed, little else is except allusions to classics spoken out loud by the overly jolly Juan Echanove as Angel, Leo's editor and unlikely love interest. Do yourself a favor and watch Paredes in ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER to see her inhabit a far superior role tailored to her skills and personality, and where we first saw Pedro's ambition--and success--to elevate his characters above caricatures and cliches to a place where his meta textual aims hit their targets.

01995: 103 minutes: dir. by Pedro Almodóvar: written by Almodóvar


  1. I'm still bummed that this snoozer is the only film in the Viva Pedro series that I caught at the Castro last month. Mainly I'm bummed I missed Matador, which I've never seen at all. You'd think I'd be able to get to it when it plays a whole week there, but I failed.

  2. Yeah, it was a treat to see on the big screen. While not as eye popping as some of his recent widescreen technicolor tableaux, MATADOR still stizzles in a way that his newer, more adult films lack. I can see why people say he mellowed out but when it brings you such fruits as BAD EDUCATION & TALK TO HER...I won't complain one bit. By far my favorite living director. At least, of the ones that make movies every couple years; Malick and Polanski are out of the running. Yet another arbitrary filmfan qualification...

  3. Polanski's not unprolific enough to be mentioned in the same sentence as Malick, is he? I mean, he's had, what, two six-year periods with no filmmaking, but that's nothing.

    My favorite Almodovars, so far: LIVE FLESH and TALK TO HER. I've still only seen a few of the early ones though: DARK HABITS, LAW OF DESIRE and WOMEN ON THE VERGE (if that's still considered early).

  4. I found LIVE FLESH pretty but not as emotionally involving as any of the films he has made since. It's a logical stepping stone from the ill concieved and executed FLOWER to the perfectly constructed ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER. Still need to see LAW OF DESIRE.

    Yeah, nobody really approaches Malick in terms of laying low but Polanski's great films are about as infrequent. He's always good but before THE PIANIST it had been a while, maybe since TESS in 1979, that he'd really triumphed. At least in my eyes. He made two movies in the 80s and the one I've seen wasn't all that good. And of the three in the 90s, none are excellent: one is terrible and the other two have their moments but remain subpar. But I still never made time for OLIVER TWIST, which I actually really did want to see.