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Reviews of each new Pedro Almod centsvar film seem to fall into one of two categories: (1) He's back! [NEW FILM NAME HERE] is his funniest movie since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown! (2) He's lost it! [NEW FILM NAME HERE] is nothing like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Personally, I lean toward the first school of thought. Because I see so many derivative, brain-dead movies, anything exhibiting traces of originality, vision, fresh satire, or intelligence tends to generate excitement, and I don't believe Almod centsvar is capable of making a movie without these elements.
However, The Flower of My Secret is a bit of a departure for Almod centsvar. The flamboyant Spaniard's three post-Women on the Verge offerings -- 1990's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, 1991's High Heels, and 1994's Kika -- seemed to chart a progression of ever-wackier story lines that finally plunged off the deep end into total nonsensicality. Then again, Women on the Verge wasn't exactly steeped in realism, but at least it offered a fundamentally sympathetic leading character with whom the audience could identify. The Flower of My Secret features a "normal" protagonist -- normal by Almod centsvar standards, at least -- and the director's most cohesive, melodramatic, straightforward plot since . . . well, at least since 1986's Law of Desire. Come to think of it, this may be the most conventional story he's ever filmed. But don't let that fool you; this Flower comes complete with Almod centsvar's masterful (but in this case judicious) use of pop-art visuals, dark humor, and punch lines that catch you completely off guard. Still, there's nothing here as shocking as the rape scene in Kika. By keeping the action lower-key and more realistic and by folding his usual warped world-view into a more traditional format, Almod centsvar brings his anarchic sensibilities into sharper relief.
Flower has the feel of one of those late-Forties, early-Fifties women's movies starring Bette Davis or Susan Hayward, but sprinkled with Almod centsvar's sardonic wit and irreverence. In stark contrast to Kika, in which a character like Peter Coyote's serial killer is just plain evil, the characters in Flower of My Secret are all basically good. Their clumsiness, indecision, or cowardice -- rather than an inherently wicked nature -- causes pain to those around them. This shift marks a big step in Almod centsvar's evolution as a chronicler of the human condition. It's an almost Capraesque point of view: Human beings aren't bad, they're just imperfect. And those imperfections have a big effect on other imperfect humans.
Leo (Marisa Paredes) writes romance novels, but over the past two years her prose has gone from pink to black. She misses her husband Paco, a NATO strategist working in Bosnia. But Paco doesn't miss Leo; he volunteered for the duty rather than confess to Leo that he doesn't love her any more. Leo senses this but denies it. Brave soldier Paco's faint-hearted inability to come right out and tell Leo the truth keeps her hanging on to an illusory hope that everything will work out between them. Meanwhile she isolates herself from human contact, interacting only with her immediate family -- a hypochondriac mother (the hysterical Chus Lampreave) who lives with Leo's exasperated sister Rosa (plumped-up Almod centsvar regular Rossy de Palma) -- and her best friend Betty (Carmen Elias). (It says a lot about Almod centsvar's subtlety and restraint in this picture that he resists the temptation to highlight de Palma's prominent nose; her wardrobe is understated, and neither her hairstyle nor her makeup is particularly bizarre. She almost looks like a normal person.)
Poor Leo sinks deeper and deeper into a state of denial, despair, and emotional frailty. Only at Betty's insistence does Leo submit some of her darker writing to Angel (the ingratiating Juan Echanove), an editor of the arts supplement to a daily newspaper. Impressed by Leo's work and smitten by her looks and personality, Angel attempts to befriend her. But she keeps Angel -- and everyone else who cares about her -- at bay until she can work things out with Paco. And then one day Paco announces that he has a 24-hour leave and will be returning for a visit. Leo believes it will give them a chance to patch things up. Needless to say, she is mistaken.
If I were a betting man, I'd wager that no shortage of reviewers will label this film a comeback for Almod centsvar. That implies he was in a slump, which I've never believed for a second. But The Flower of My Secret is without a doubt the director's most cohesive and assured project in recent memory. It may not be A as critics will be wont to write A "as laugh-out-loud funny as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," but that's no reason to conceal this Secret.
The Flower of My Secret.
Written and directed by Pedro Almod centsvar; with Marisa Paredes, Juan Echanove, Imanol Arias, Carmen Elias, Chus Lampreave, and Rossy de Palma.
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