Critics' Corner


Desson Howe - Weekend section, "A tragicomic good time."

Rita Kempley - Style section,
"The picture seems muted."


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'The Flower of My Secret'

In "Flower," Leo, a middle-aged woman who lives in Madrid and writes best-selling gothic novels under the pseudonym Amanda Gris, refuses to face the possibility that her husband, Paco, does not love her.

While her husband-a conflict resolution specialist-works in Brussels, she lives for his phone calls. He's always distant in those conversations; and when he comes for a brief visit, which he abruptly cuts even shorter, she finally realizes the awful truth. She reaches for help from her best friend Betty, as well as her dominating mother. But after suffering even more traumatic revelations about her shattered marriage, Leo goes from bad to worse.

Another complication occurs when Angel, a drunken, well-read publisher, hires Leo to write literary reviews for the local newspaper and falls unrequitedly in love with her. Her first assignment is to write a critique of the latest Amanda Gris novel. -- Desson Howe Rated R


Director: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Marisa Paredes; Imanol Arias; Carmen Elias; Chus Lampreave; Rossy de Palma







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Almodovar's Poppy 'Flower'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 19, 1996

If Pedro Almodovar's latest movie, "The Flower of My Secret," doesn't duplicate the provocative brassiness of such earlier works as "Law of Desire" and "Matador," it shows that-artistically speaking-he's still hanging in there.

The Spanish director has gone from taboo-busting (one of his films featured heroin-addicted nuns) to exploring the soap-operatic world of anguished, neurotic women. And here, he does what he does best-finding poignance in the most melodramatic of modern lifestyles. The more ridiculous and intentionally convoluted the plights of his characters, the more empathetic and human they become.

In "Flower," Leo (Marisa Paredes), a middle-aged woman who lives in Madrid and writes best-selling gothic novels under the pseudonym Amanda Gris, refuses to face the possibility that her husband, Paco (Imanol Arias), does not love her.

While her husband-a conflict resolution specialist-works in Brussels, she lives for his phone calls. He's always distant in those conversations; and when he comes for a brief visit, which he abruptly cuts even shorter, she finally realizes the awful truth. She reaches for help from her best friend Betty (Carmen Elias), as well as her dominating mother (Chus Lampreave). But after suffering even more traumatic revelations about her shattered marriage, Leo goes from bad to worse.

Another complication occurs when Angel (Juan Echanove), a drunken, well-read publisher, hires Leo to write literary reviews for the local newspaper and falls unrequitedly in love with her. Her first assignment is to write a critique of the latest Amanda Gris novel.

The movie is full of familiar Almodovar fare, but it feels freshened. Leo's mother is a hilariously manipulative woman who wedges her ego into every aspect of her two daughter's lives. (Leo's sister, Rosa, played by regular Rossy de Palma, has the unenviable task of living with this bossy woman.) Leo's Amanda Gris book contract (with the Fascination Publishing Company) stipulates that she must write three novels a year, which contain an "absence of social conscience."

Her life, of course, is filled with setback after setback-most of it brought about by herself. To feel closer to her husband, for instance, Leo insists on wearing boots he gave her a few years before, which are far too small. Trapped in them as usual, Leo offers the boots to a panhandler, if he can only remove them. He tries but can't. It starts raining. Despondent, she checks into a cafe, orders cognac and coffee and calls her friend Betty for boot-pulling assistance. But Betty's in a meeting. Life, it seems, gets worse and worse, but in an Almodovar movie, that translates into a tragicomic good time.

THE FLOWER OF MY SECRET (R) - Contains sexual situations, nudity and profanity. In Spanish with subtitles.

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'Flower': A Woman Blooms

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 19, 1996

Nobody ties anybody up or down in "The Flower of My Secret," Pedro Almodovar's most mainstream film since "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." Reminiscent of Paul Mazursky's 1978 "An Unmarried Woman," this subdued Spanish dramedy concerns its heroine's triumph over a philandering husband's rejection.

Though Almodovar touches on many of his favorite absurdities, he does so with surprising subtlety. No queens, no kinks, just quirks. The former king of high camp seems perfectly content here with garden-variety neuroses and everyday issues. His newest heroine is also a woman on the verge, but the director treats her more tenderly than the dizzy dames of his antic 1988 film. Marisa Paredes, the mother in Almodovar's "High Heels," plays the self-deluded Leo, a middle-aged romance novelist who can't accept the disintegration of her marriage. Though she and Paco (Imanol Arias), an army general, aren't officially separated, he has retreated to Brussels. He's a NATO strategist assigned to make peace in Bosnia, yet he can't seem to wind down the war with his wife.

Leo makes frequent, pathetic calls to Brussels, but Paco is never there and rarely calls back. Though everyone else realizes he is avoiding her, Leo ignores the obvious truth. Drinking heavily and unable to write "pink" novels anymore, she starts writing literary essays for a newspaper. Her editor, Angel (Juan Echanove), a paunchy sentimentalist with a taste for the grape himself, loves her from the start.

Clearly perfect for Leo, Angel even loves romance novels. Still, Leo remains obsessed with her coldbloodedly handsome husband, who finally agrees to come home on a 24-hour leave. Leo asks their maid, a former flamenco dancer, to make his favorite dish, then gives her the night off after sliding into her slinkiest dress. But Paco is less interested in paella or connubial bliss than in putting an end to this messy business with his wife.

Like the scorned heroine of "Women on the Verge," Leo decides to put herself out of her misery with an overdose of barbiturates. Only instead of putting them into a pitcher full of gazpacho, she swallows them with a big gulp of Scotch. Angel, of course, is not named that for nothing, so the tale remains hopeful, if not altogether comical.

"The Flower of My Secret" is populated with vivid minor characters-particularly Leo's wise, garrulous mother (Chus Lampreave) and her sorely tested sister (Rossy de Palma)-and shot in colors from Almodovar's vibrant palette. For all of that, the picture seems muted, the flower's petals a little brown at the edges.

The Flower of My Secret, in Spanish with English subtitles, is rated R for sexuality.

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