A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997
The tangled threads of love are expertly unravelled by Pedro Almodovar in a
story which contains his usual elements of striking colour schemes and witty dialogue, but
without the frivolousness of earlier works. Leo Macias (Marisa Paredes) is a romantic
novelist, writing under the famous pseudonym of Amanda Gris, whose life is a bitter
contrast to the saccharine tales flowing from her typewriter. Her marriage to Paco (Imanol
Arias) is on the verge of destruction, her mood so gloomy that she is unable to write new
romantic novels (Leo can only write in 'dark colours' now) and, to top everything, she
can't get her boots off! This forces Leo into trailing across Madrid to find her only (in
her words) friend Betty (Carmen Elias), who is busy teaching young doctors how to deal
with bereaved relatives. The sea of alcohol that Leo uses to keep her afloat becomes
painfully obvious during this character-defining trip; an essential crutch, obviously.
Over dinner, Betty suggests that Leo takes her mind off of her worries by
taking up journalism. In fact she knows the perfect contact in Angel (Juan Echanove), the
editor of the literature section of El Pais, which makes the choice easier for Leo.
Keeping her published identity secret, Leo visits Angel with a new novel and several
essays, which he dearly loves. However, Leo is taken aback when he asks her to review the
new novel by Amanda Gris, a task she manages to squirm out of by proclaiming that she
detests that particular author. After this boost to her self-confidence Leo visits her
sister Rosa (Rossy de Palma), who lives in an atmosphere of insults and frustration with
their mother (Chus Lampreave). The schizoid behaviour of this old lady stems from her
feelings of loss and rootlessness, having moved from her home village to Madrid (although
she likes a good argument as well). Perhaps life isn't treating Leo so badly after all?
A simple phone-call is all that's needed to disturb this fragile equilibrium
though. Paco is coming home on a 24-hour furlough, from his duties with the NATO
peacekeeping force for Bosnia, which elevates Leo onto a higher plateau - hopefully this
time they won't spend every minute shouting at each other. This doesn't seem a
particularly likely scenario unfortunately, given Leo's sensitivity to any slight or
misplaced remark. An added complication is that Angel has some romantic intentions towards
Leo and is party to the secret of Amanda Gris (revealed to him during a drunken
stupor). The many outstanding questions (will Leo make up with Paco, or switch to Angel?
can she fulfill her contract? what will happen to her mother?) are masterfully tied
together by the finale, but never at the expense of creditability.
For Almodovar this seems a transitory picture, charting his progress from
charming and outrageous early movies to a more mature and caring future. The characters of
The Flower of My Secret all contain qualities which we can identify with, flaws which are
seldom found in standard Hollywood roles, and feel concern for. The acting itself is
adequate but, as always, the humour, inventiveness and zest of the script gives many of
the scenes a tangible boost. This may not be a comedy but there are a lot of laughs.
Additional pleasing touches arise from the many arresting colour schemes used (a very
common theme for Almodovar) and the interesting use of mirrors, glass and translucent
materials to cast individual moments in a certain way. This may not be a great film, but
it is both good and entertaining.
Runtime: 106 minutes
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