Friday, July 30, 2010

Floral Arrangements

I've been on kind of an Almodovar kick lately. I came late to the party with Almodovar, so I'm having to view some of his older films through the filter or his recent work. It's an interesting kind of parallax. I don't know that my old opinion of Almodovar was necessarily wrong, just that I wasn't seeing or wasn't "getting" what he was up to. In this regard, his 1995 movie, The Flower of My Secret is a kind of Rosetta Stone. It stands as a kind of nexus between his older films and his current, mature style. The director was always evolving towards a kind of Sirkian melodrama, even in his more outrageous earlier films, and here you can see him groping for the effects he would attain in over the next decade and a half. Hell, it sometimes seems like he had those films already written in his mind from the evidence of this film.

The movie itself concerns Leo, a romance writer who has become disillusioned with her work. She wants to write more realistic, more literary work, but her contract with her publisher prevents it. Compounding this problem is her disintegrating marriage with her absent husband, with whom she has raging fights after it becomes clear that he no longer wants her. On a whim, she takes her writing to the publisher of a newspaper and lands a gig reviewing her own latest novel, which she excoriates as "typing," a la Truman Capote's famous put-down of Jack Kerouac. Her editor at the newspaper, on the other hand, loves her romance novels (even though he doesn't know that she's the writer) and begins to fall for her.

The details of this movie are telling. Her best friend stages training performances for doctors to rehearse their bedside manners (this recurs in All About My Mother). The one performance we see concerns the mother of a boy who is in a persistent vegetative state (All About My Mother again for the grieving mother, and Talk To Her on the disposition of a boy in a coma). The dance sequence at the end also anticipates Talk to Her. And most telling of all is the plot of Leo's "literary" novel, in which a girl murders her father who is molesting her and her mother covers the crime by hiding the body at a friend's vacant restaurant (this is more or less the plot of Volver). During the course of the movie, these echoes of the future make it clear that Pedro has placed himself in the movie as multiple characters. Leo is certainly an avatar, as is Angel (her editor), and Antonio, who steals the idea of Leo's novel and sells it for movies. All of this is also evidence of a director who never throws anything away; a true auteur.

Unfortunately, this isn't one of Almodovar's better movies. Don't get me wrong: It's totally watchable. Compulsive, even. You want to know what happens next at any given point of its running time. The trouble with it is that none of the echoes of the future cohere into a satisfying narrative and when this finds its way to an ending, my first impulse was to ask, "That's it?" Almodovar falls victim to his own success, I think. The emotional content and the heights of melodrama presented earlier in the movie seem to cry out for some kind of epic catharsis of some kind. Instead, the movie kind of fizzles out, as if it wasted all of its fireworks and had nothing left for a finale.

1 comment:

DeAnna said...

I fell for Almodovar with Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, which I think is still the only one of his films that I own a copy of. I always try to see his movies on the big screen and usually adore them, but I don't think I've seen Flower, Kika, or Live Flesh, probably because I was living in Anchorage or Columbia and thus, missed them... Although, I did see one of his movies in the 90s with a bizarre passion fruit rape scene???? or something? I cannot quite remember. I hate my spotty memory.

The filmmaker that shows how much I've changed as an audience is Gregg Araki. I used to HATE his films, but now I find them hilarious and sweet. Although, I haven't gone back to Doom Generation, but I've finally worked my way back through his entire catalog and own most of it now. Sure, most of them aren't exactly high art, but they're sweetly comforting and downright goofy.

I guess the other example of how we change... I just watched Strange Days again, since seeing it last in the theater. Not even the same movie. I remember complete revulsion and nearly walking out on it. Now, I cannot imagine why I responded so strongly to the rape scene. Or that I found Ralph Fiennes' character 'cool'. Who was I in 1995? I must have been so sensitive then?