Savant saw The Flower of My Secret expecting more in the way of a broader farce, or a drama with more powerful plot turns. Only on a second go-round did I appreciate its particular charm as a movie that's not consistently funny or shocking in the ways Almodóvar films tend to be. The script is a tightly-woven pattern of little abandonments, dysfunctional relationships and little 'secrets' that turn out to be thefts. Star Marisa Paredes plays a writer who seemingly cannot get back to an honest and satisfying existence until she quits her secret life writing meaningless romance stories.
If Pedro Almodóvar is trying to create a body of work counter to the development (or non-development) of the genre back-handedly known as 'the women's picture," he's succeeding brilliantly. The Flower of My Secret isn't as funny as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown or as wrenching as All About My Mother, but it has a kind of integrity lacking in major Hollywood romance movies that are mostly forgotten after the movie star buzz has died down. This is a good story based on intimate character observation and emotional turmoil. The hidden relationships and surprises are structured like a farce, but without the comedy. As Leo says while defending her 'unpublishable' novel, "Life is like that." Her publisher quotes her contract covering five romance novels a year: Central romantic story, sex suggested but not depicted, no social comment, happy endings. The Flower of My Secret purposely goes against all that. There's a happy ending, but it's no romantic dream, just a decision by a finally-secure woman to respond to the overtures of a charming but not-particularly-attractive man.
Almodóvar's clever story interlaces themes as well as it does emotions. The movie starts with an intense scene about organ transplants (a commendable theme in several Almodóvar movies) that turns out to be a cheat, a 'soap opera' for teaching purposes. Leo's secret writing career is profitable but too much for her to bear now that she's lost her husband Paco. She 'steals' counseling time with her best friend, who steals Leo's husband behind her back. Her newspaper editor steals her identity and writes her next two novels for her. Leo's housekeeper is secretly an enormously talented modern dancer. The housekeeper's son steals Leo's un-copyrighted novel, which becomes a big-budget movie. Leo is therefore the secret author of books, some of which are not written by her, and a movie that even the moviemakers don't know she wrote.
Leo's frantic insecurity drives most people nuts and has apparently contributed to the flight of her husband. The only time she feels truly comfortable is back in her mother's rural hometown, where the neighborhood women gather to embroider (I think that's what it is) and sing songs to keep each other company. Her mother is an annoying troublemaker but transforms into a 'whole person' in her natural element. She's even capable of giving Leo good advice.
The interesting element of The Flower of My Secret is that its potential for farce or heavy drama is purposely undercut, so that what remains is instead a credible account of a nervous breakdown narrowly avoided. Leo is much like her counterpart in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown when she discovers her husband has been unfaithful with her best friend - except there are no crazy farcical fireworks. She accepts the end of her marriage as if she's understood all along. Her best writing work is stolen by an irresponsible young artist who uses the proceeds to fund a stirring dance presentation. Leo doesn't object, as she's matured beyond possessive indignation. The key is when her own editor / hopeful suitor writes her trashy novels behind her back, and the publishers can't even tell the difference. Leo hated writing them, so it's a weight lifted from her shoulders. It'll all work out in the end.
Marisa Paredes shines in the kind of role that Bette Davis must have been looking for for forty years. 1 Most of the rest of the cast are Almodóvar veterans, with the surprise of Manuela Vargas as the cook who turns out to be a fiery modern flamenco dancer.
Sony Pictures' DVD of The Flower of My Secret looks stunning, much better than the 1995 release prints that had to go down a generation for the addition of subtitles. The enhanced picture shows off the classy art direction, which is somewhat subdued from the director's more extreme films. If it weren't for a few coarse words, there's little reason the film couldn't have been PG-13.
There's a trailer and a Spanish-sourced interview featurette that lets us hear what the actors have to say. All of them look like they're having a great time, even if the structure is identical to American EPK work - clip, adoring testimonial to the director, clip, director chat, clip, and so forth.
Sony's package text doesn't even try to represent the movie inside, overstating Leo's grudging relationship with Ángel as an affair, and her writing problem one of inspiration. This movie is a lot of things, but saying it is a "hip, romantic comedy" is lazy and meaningless.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Flower of My Secret rates:
1. It's interesting to think
that the great movie stars of the past mostly played roles where dialogue spelled out everything
happening in a character's head. I think someone like Davis would have done perfectly well as one
of the rich characters in an Almodóvar movie, and adapted immediately to acting without the
crutch of specific dialogue; Davis certainly plays most of The Nanny without ever 'explaining'
her actions through words, and she's terrific.