"MAN OF FLOWERS" is a wry and wicked import from the Down Underground, where Australian directors, full of spunk and individualism, make some of the world's most likable and stylish films. Paul Cox is the director of this Freudian romp.
The enormously talented Norman Kaye, also the star of Cox's "Lonely Hearts," is the reclusive hero here. He plays Charles Bremer, a rich eccentric with an incurable Oedipal complex and several other troublesome quirks. He sees flowers as sexual beings and posts chatty letters to his dead mother. He collects beautiful curios, loves art and worships beauty (and despite the low budget, this is an attractive film). He's a charming deviant.
Alyson Best, a rather plain actress, costars as Lisa, an artist's model whose long, sexless striptease opens the film. After her performance, Bremer runs across the street to play the church organ, spending himself in ear- splitting, guilty discord. The deacon urges Bremer to confide his problems, no matter how odd. "We're all Christians here," the churchman says. "That is the rumor," Bremer declares.
Bremer walks through life as acceptingly as Peter Sellers in "Being There," but he is no dimwit, no watcher of TV. Bremer's tastes are decidedly Victorian, tending toward demure and dimpled nymphs in pools. By way of contrast, Lisa lives with David (Chris Haywood), a trendy splatter artist who paints with squirt bottles and then wallows on his canvas. When Bremer chides the painter, he becomes a spokesman for all of us who've ever wondered at the jibberish on museum walls. "I'm not sure that a man who can't paint flowers can paint at all," he says.
Bremer also has philosophical discussions with the postman about the Queen's hats and with his psychiatrist about dreams of fish. (Bob Ellis, who also cowrote the delightful script, plays the doctor.) Eventually Bremer saves Lisa, who has taken up with a lesbian art student, from the vengeful David. Bremer's own troubles, precipitated by too many buxom aunts and a repressive father (Werner Herzog), are also somewhat resolved.
Cox overindulges a bit on Bremer's flashbacks, grainy as home movies. But his work is deft and dense as haiku in its internal and external allusions. David and Lisa are surely twisted namesakes for the '60s film of the same name, and surely the film shares a premise with a classic straightjacket comedy of those times. Like "King of Hearts," it wonders if Not Okay isn't better.