Too often, Hollywood film reduces love to romanticized lust between people. Yet, in truth, Love can be a slippery thing, as it comes from within a single person, transmuted by perception of the other, which can in turn, influence the feelings of the source. Time and environment has an effect, as does mystery and the unknown. Blood bonds and ritual can bind, but chaos can intercede. It’s not always pretty, and it can hurt as much as it can fulfill.
It’s rare when a film can capture this complexity of love's fluidity and its effect on human behavior. That’s why you have to see Flowers (Loreak) when it opens at the Coral Gables Art Cinema this weekend during an exclusive U.S. premiere commercial run (it first played in the area at Miami Dade College's Miami International Film Festival in March). Written and directed by Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga, two filmmakers from the Basque country of Spain, Flowers brilliantly presents a complex story that never loses focus on the disembodied presence of love between three different women and the man who connects them.
When Ane (Nagore Aranburu), a construction site manager, reaches menopause — which her doctor warns will bring on weight gain and depression — she receives an anonymous bouquet of flowers at home. She immediately believes it’s her husband’s doing. When she asks him, he coolly replies, “What For?” The flowers come week after week with no note attached. After Ane’s co-worker Beñat (Josean Bengoetxea) dies in a freak car crash, the flowers stop.
Beñat leaves behind a wife, Lourdes (Itziar Ituño), and his mother Tere (Itziar Aizpuru). Before his sudden death, the two women were locked in a passive-aggressive battle over their influence over Beñat. In the his life, Beñat showed little sentiment for death (in an earlier scene he refuses to get out of his car in the rain to leave flowers at his father’s grave with his mother), so he had arranged for his body to be donated to a medical school. After his death, Lourdes bags and trashes the potted flowers from their balcony and moves out of the apartment owned by Tere. Tere, meanwhile, makes a memorial of the crash site, routinely leaving flowers in her son’s memory. Lourdes never goes there, until she realizes Ane has made a habit of leaving weekly flowers.
With Beñat’s body shelved in a school lab for the next five years, the film follows these three women joined in sentiment — or lack of it — for the departed Beñat. Feelings oscillate as their lives cross and they are forced to confront how they feel about the dead man that joins their lives. The viewer, in turn, is drawn in to their stories, forced to consider what love means without a person there to contextualize feelings.
It’s not an easy thing for a film to pull off, but Garaño and Goenaga take their time while never wasting a moment of the movie. The duo, working on their second collaboration, never force explanation. They trust that the feelings of tension and longing among the characters will imbue the film with a sense of authenticity. They succeed in surprisingly moving ways.
Scenes are often presented with objects and people off center, yet still maintain an incongruous beauty lensed by Javi Agirre Erauso. The images never feel arbitrary or ostentatious. After all, there is an invisible presence in the spaces, reminding us that something beyond the characters unites them: love and all it amorphous shades, between mother and son, wife and husband and a distant admirer.
The performances buoy Garaño and Goenaga’s subtle and patient script with a melancholy subtly. The film is in Euskera, the language of the Basque region of Spain. It will sound alien to most, but the film’s universal, human story transcends language. Though sometimes the symbolism of the flowers feels heavy-handed and grounded in their sentimentality, it allows for a way in to the more complex ideas in the film’s austere yet resonant script.
Flowers opens exclusively at the Coral Gables Art Cinema this Friday, July 3. Tickets are $11.50. For more information, visit gablescinema.com.
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Hans Morgenstern has contributed to Miami New Times for too many decades, but he's grown to love Miami's arts and culture scene because of it. He is the chair of the Florida Film Critics Circle, and most of his film criticism can be found on Independent Ethos (indieethos.com) if not in New Times.