Flower of My Secret, The (Spain/France, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The words "A Film by Almodovar" conjure up images of the bizarre, the kinky, and the unapologetically unconventional. Ever since his 1980 debut, Pepi, Luci, Bom, Almodovar has been lauded as Spain's golden boy film maker -- a director who will take any chance to obtain a desired result. At times, he has been wildly successful (as in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!). On other occasions, things haven't gone nearly as well (Kika). But, through it all, Almodovar has never come close to conventionality -- until The Flower of My Secret, that is.

First and foremost, barring the offbeat opening scene where two deadpan doctors explain to a woman that her son is brain-dead (we later learn that this is part of a training film, not an actual experience), The Flower of My Secret doesn't seem like Almodovar. He treats his characters with an unexpected sensitivity, and his vicious, often-ribald sense of humor has been muted to the point of insignificance. For the most part, The Flower of My Secret takes itself too seriously, which might have been okay if the primary story wasn't an example of dreary melodrama.

Leo Macias (Marisa Parades) is a lonely author involved in a failing marriage. Although she longs to write novels of substance and meaning, her income derives from popular, formula romances, which she pens under the pseudonym of Amanda Gris. Meanwhile, her husband, Paco (Imanol Arias), has joined the NATO peacekeeping mission in Bosnia to flee the homefront wars that he and his wife regularly engage in. When asked if he thinks there's any chance to save his union with Leo, Paco considers for a moment before replying, "None."

Much of The Flower of My Secret concerns Leo's journey from a lost, frightened dependent to someone who can stand on her own. It's not always an interesting trek, but there are rewards for those who stick with the story. Chief among these is Almodovar's examination of Leo's dual identity. As a romance writer, she is adored by thousands of fans, and her next novel is awaited with breathless anticipation. But, as a "serious" person, she despises Amanda Gris, even going so far as to write a blistering critique of her own work (under a different pseudonym). The Leo/Amanda schism is fascinating, but it's often reduced to a background subplot, and the resolution is dissatisfying.

It's strange seeing an Almodovar film without the bright, energetic presence of Victoria Abril, who has graced his three previous outings. For The Flower of My Secret, the leading actress is another Almodovar regular, Marisa Paredes, who does an excellent job portraying Leo's longing, insecurity, and other neuroses. In addition to Imanol Arias as Paco, Juan Enchanove (as Leo's prospective suitor), Rossy de Palma (as her sister), and Chus Lampreave (as her mother) provide solid support.

While it's a different experience to view an Almodovar movie that respects, and even shows affection for, its female lead, The Flower of My Secret is far from a standout effort. It's bland as often as it is affecting, and presents little that's new or original. This is just another story of a woman grappling for independence while looking for love. The Flower of My Secret shows hints of what a kinder, gentler Almodovar has to offer the motion picture world, but, on the whole, I prefer the flamboyant attitude he previously exhibited.

Flower of My Secret, The (Spain/France, 1996)

Run Time: 1:42
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: Spanish with English subtitles
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1