Flower of My Secret: Almodovar’s Romantic Drama, Starring Marisa Paredes

the_flower_of_my_secret_posterEnamored of the stupendous Marisa Paredes, arguably one of the best actresses working in world cinema today, Almodovar built a whole “woman picture”around her in “The Flower of My Secret” (“La flor de mi secreto”).

It’s a film that some critics (not me) consider to be Almodovar’s first truly “mature” work, because it’s devoid of visual excess or outlandish humor, and the heroine is more mature and complex than Kika, for instance.

Paredes plays Leo Macias, a middle-aged novelist entrapped in bad marriage to Paco (Imanol Arias), a NATO official working in Brussels for the Bosnian peacekeeping force. Leo confides her marital discords to her psychologist friend, Betty (Carmen Elias), who recommends that she contact her publisher friend Angel (Juan Echanove), editor of the Culture section of El Pais. Leo obeys, and after the meeting Angel commissions her to write a literary column.  Excited, Leo calls Paco to share her news but he cuts her short, attributing her contentment to the influence of alcohol; Leo does have a drinking problem.

the_flower_of_my_secret_5_almodovarEager to see her handsome husband after a long time, Leo is burning with desire for the kind of sex that Maggie was desperate for in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”  Preparing herself for the meeting, Leo wears a sexy red dress, and helps make Paco’s favorite dish, Paella.  But, alas, the meeting turns out to be disastrous from the second that Paco arrives.  Cold and detached, he announces that he has only two hours (instead of the promised full day), needs his shorts to be ironed, and is very hungry.  Leo has given her housekeeper Blanca the day off, so that they can be alone. But nothing she does pleases Paco, and everything she says irritates him.  It’s one rejection after another.

the_flower_of_my_secret_4_almodovarWhen Paco takes a shower, the yearning Leo stares at his body through the glass door, but when he notices her, he turns to the other side.  Helping him to dry up, she kneels down burying her face in his crotch, only to be pushed away.  Paco complains that the paella is too cold, but he won’t let her reheat it in the microwave.  Dressing up quickly into his uniform, Paco is in a hurry to leave, despite Leo’s protest that he has not even given her the promised two hours.  Rushing after Paco, Leo finally confronts him with a direct question, does their marriage hold any future? Paco coolly confirms her worst fears.

Along with her “serious” unpublished work, using the pseudonym of Amanda Gris, Leo has written best-selling romances, but she now feels incapable of delivering the upbeat plots required by her contract.  Drinking heavily, she has begun writing grim novels about accidents and murders, and her editors get angry for her departing from her previously satisfying, if predictable stories.  No doubt, Leo’s productivity is affected by her loneliness and sterile marriage.   Contemplating suicide, like other Almodovar heroines, Leo empties a bottle of pills.  However, when she hears her mother’s voice on the answering machine, Leo vomits the pills. Rushing out, Leo runs into Angel, who kindly takes her back to his flat to recover.  The next day, Angel reveals that he had disclosed her secret–her identity as the famous writer.

Leo visits her perpetually anxious sister, Rosa (Rossy de Palma), who lives with their querulous and hypochondriac mother (Chus Lampreave).  The sequences between Rosa and their mom provide the only comic relief in a film that’s otherwise straight, serious, and a bit dull.  The long-suffering Rosa is married to a man (unseen) who’s out of work and has a drug problem.  Feeling out of place in Madrid, the mother longs to go back to her natïve village.  She endlessly complains about being starved and treated like a dog, unable to take a nap in the afternoon.  “I cannot do anything to please your sister, “she tells Leo, who’s clearly her favorite daughter. “When I doze off, she is waking me, ‘get up, get up.’ Christ what does she want me to do, aerobics.”  The mother shows contempt for Rosa’s taste in furniture, which she describes as that of a gypsy.  For her part, the exasperated Rosa complains that their mother is so out of it that she cannot distinguish between skinheads and yuppies.  More annoying is the mother’s insistence on taking laxatives daily, because “she wants to shit all the time.”

Things become unbearable, and the mother’s call to Leo, which saves her life, is to alert her about her determination to leave.  Defeated and exhausted, Leo accompanies her mother, and they are greeted with the expected warm response from the villagers.  Once Leo begins to recover, she sits amongst the women (mostly widows), who are studiously knitting.  She asks them to sing traditional folklore, and showing female solidarity that empowers Leo, they all sing, making Leo relaxed and smiling for the first time in years.

In a separate, less engaging subplot, Leo’s loyal housekeeper Blanca (Manuela Vargas) is visited by her son Antonio (Joaquin Cortes), who persuades her to resume her career as a flamenco dancer.  Needing money for the show, Antonio retrieves a manuscript that Leo had dumped in the garbage, after it was dismissed by the publishers, and also steals her earrings. Meanwhile, the distraught Betty confides in Leo in the requisite Almodovarian confession that she and Paco have been seeing each other.

Back in Madrid, Leo and Angel attend a flamenco performance by Blanca and Antonio, after which Angel avows his love.  At midnight, Antonio shows up at Leo’s, admitting to have stolen her things in order to finance the show.  Handsome but much younger than Leo, Antonio treats her like a desirable woman, willing to “do anything” to repent for his sins.  She accepts his

apology but resists his advances after verbal flirtation.  Though tempted, Leo knows the line between proper and improper conduct for a woman her age.

“The Flower of My Secret” is the only Almodovar picture in which there is no sex at all!  Freed from any obligations, Leo can rebuild a new, healthier life.   In the last scene, Leo and Angel have a toast on New Year’s Eve.  Sitting in front of the fireplace, Angel tells Leo that they are recreating the last act from Cukor’s “Rich and Famous (1981), in which the two old rivals, played by Jacqueline Bissett and Candice Bergen, behaved in the same way.