Like the late playwright Tennessee Williams, Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar loves to make melodramas about slightly (or wholly) crazed women. And like the homosexual Williams, the homosexual Almodóvar identifies strongly with his female characters, many of whom fear they are no longer desirable.
The difference is that although Williams usually saw this as a tragedy, Almodóvar views the situation as one fraught with comic possibilities and even opportunities for triumph.
The Flower of My Secret is at heart a traditional "women's picture," but thanks to Almodóvar's unique style it comes off as a minor miracle, both for its heroine and for its writer/director.
Almodóvar stalwart Marisa Paredes portrays Leo, a writer who under a pseudonym has produced a series of best-selling romantic novels.
Leo's real-life romance, however, is on the skids. Her soldier husband, Paco (Imanol Arias), hasn't lived at home for months. When he visits, the reunion invariably breaks down into tears and recriminations, often triggered by Leo's insecurity that her age (she appears to be about 10 years older than Paco) has rendered her unattractive.
This is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But unlike Almodóvar's farcical comedy by that name, Flower... plays things pretty straight.
Its first half is a study in mopey misery. Leo writes overblown romantic prose while pathetically yearning for her absent Paco. To be closer to him, she pulls on a pair of his boots, only to discover that the fit is so tight she has to go into the street and pay a panhandler to wrestle them off her feet.
She has professional problems, too. Leo writes a "real" book, one with serious themes and a downbeat conclusion, but her fluff publishers reject it with the threat of a lawsuit. She decides to write book reviews for a newspaper and ends up panning one of her own romance novels; at least she makes the acquaintance of the paper's editor (Juan Echanove), a light-footed fat man who is clearly smitten with her.
Before it's all over Leo finds herself in a variety of sticky entanglements – with her ornery mother, with Paco, with Paco's mistress, with her pursuing journalist.
What's remarkable about Flower of My Secret is that just when you've written the film off as nothing special, Paredes' performance begins to dig in. By the movie's conclusion she has become a heroine in every sense of the word, a character in whom we invest our hopes, fears, and desires and whose happiness we desperately care about.
In fact, Paredes delivers a portrait of vulnerability and unexpected strength that bears comparison with the work of Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. Flower of My Secret is an old-fashioned wallow in romance and the glories of female maturity.
Other films in the series “Almodóvar's Women”
Saturdays at 2:00 p.m.:
- March 2: The Flower of My Secret (1995) Rated R
- March 9: Broken Embraces (2009) Rated R
- March 16: All About My Mother (1999) Rated R
- March 23: The Skin I Live In (2011) Rated R
Admission to these films is free.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.