Flower of My Secret, The: Almodovar’s Mature Melodrama, Starring Marisa Paredes

The heroine of The Flower of My Secret (“La flor de mi secreto”) is a more mature and complex character than Kika, the titular character of his previous film.

Enamored of the stupendous Marisa Paredes, arguably one of the best actresses working in world cinema today, Almodovar built a whole “woman picture” scenario around her.

It’s a film that some critics (not me) consider to be Almodovar’s first really “mature” work, because it’s devoid of visual excess or outlandish humor.

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 contacts her publisher friend, Angel (Juan Echanove), editor of the Culture section of El Pais. Leo obeys and after meeting Angel, she is commissioned to write a literary column. Excited, Leo calls Paco to share her news with him, but he cuts her short, attributing her contentment to the influence of alcohol; Leo does have a drinking problem.

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

Paco takes a shower, with the yearning Leo watching through the glass door. 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. The pallela is too cold, but Paco refuses to 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 given her the promised whole two hours. Rushing after Paco into the corridors, Leo finally confronts him directly, asking if their marriage holds any future, and Paco confirms her worst fears.

Along with her “serious” unpublished work, using the pseudonym of Amanda Gris, Leo has written a series of best-selling romantic novels, 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 departures from her previously predictable but satisfying stories. Leo’s work is affected by her loneliness and sterile marriage. Contemplating suicide, like other Almodovar heroines, Leo empties a bottle of pills and lies down. However, when she hears her mother’s voice on the answering machine, Leo forces herself to vomit the pills and rushes out. She 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 true identity as the famous writer.

Leo visits her perpetually anxious sister, Rosa (Rossy de Palma), who lives with their querulous, hypochondriac mother (Chus Lampreave). The sequences between Rosa and her mom, even though both play broad stereotypes of Spanish femmes, provide the only comic relief in a film that’s otherwise straight, serious, and a bit dull.

Rosa is Á long-suffering wife, Rosa is married to (unseen) husband, who’s unemployed and has a drug problem. Feeling out of place in Madrid, the mother longs to go back to her natïve village. She endlessly complains that she is starved and (mis)treated like a dog. Rosa won’t let her take a nap in the afternoons. “I cannot do anything to please your sister, “she tells Leo, 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 also shows contempt for Rosa’s taste in furniture, which she describes as that of a gypsy. Rosa claims that their mother cannot distinguish between skinheads and yuppies on the streets, and that she insists on using suppositions every day, 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 that she is determined to go back to her village. Leo, defeated and exhausted, accompanies her mother, and they are greeted with the expected warm response from the female villagers. Once Leo begins to recover, she sits amongst the women (all widows), who are studiously knitting, She then asks them to sing traditional folklore, and showing female solidarity that empowers Leo, they begin to sing. It’s the first time that Leo relaxes, flashing a genuine smile on her face.

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

While in the village, unbeknownst to her, Angel completes her contract. 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 and 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 a flirtatious verbal exchange. Though tempted, Leo knows the fine line between proper and improper conduct for a woman of her age. “The Flower of My Secret” is the only Almodovar picture in which there is no sex!

Freed from any obligations, Leo can start rebuilding 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 George Cukor’s “Rich and Famous (1981), in which the two old rivals, Jacqueline Bissett and Candice Bergen, are doing the same thing.