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Almodovar's Time Machine


Through a Glass Divided: Marisa Paredes and Imanol Arias split up in Pedro Almodovar's "The Flower of My Secret."

'The Flower of My Secret' reinvents Douglas Sirk

By Richard von Busack

The new Spanish import The Flower of My Secret brings us a more refined Pedro Almodovar, tamed after the pleasingly wretched excesses of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Kika, ready to stimulate our better nature with a heart-wrenching tale of a middle-aged woman's search for love. Almodovar has often proclaimed his love for Douglas Sirk's Eisenhower-era dramas about well-bred passion. In a climactic hug beneath a snow storm of torn-up papers during the middle of a swearing crowd of political demonstrators, Almodovar has found a visual rhyme for the glorious fall leaves at the beginning of Sirk's 1956 Written on the Wind. In fact, Leo (Marisa Paredes), the Jane Wyman-like heroine of The Flower of My Secret, is shyly courted by a journalist who looks something like a bigger, plumper and bearded version of Rock Hudson.

Leo, alas, is having a rocky time of it. She's so obsessed over her estranged husband, Paco (Imanol Arias), that she still wears the boots he gave her, even though years have passed and the boots are now of a gangrene-inducing tightness. She's blocked in her writing life; all she can do is drink brandy and copy down in her notebook sad little snatches of Sylvia Plath. Under her successful secret pen-name of Amanda Gris, she once gave us scads of "pink novels," the Spanish equivalent of Harlequins; now, lovelorn and scalded by hormones, she can only come up with horrifying scenarios of murder and revenge which her publisher refuses. On an impulse, Leo decides to take some more personal writing to the daily paper El Pais; there, she is met by an editor, the appropriately named Angel (Juan Echanove), who falls for her prose and her Lauren Bacallish hauteur. Leo's first assignment: critique the works of Amanda Gris. Can Leo keep her secret? Will she discover just how big a cad Paco is?

Wildly droll and sophisticated comedy melts into enough drama to give the movie thrust--Leo's plight is ridiculous, but she isn't. Her situation is the kind usually surrounded and counterattacked by gags, but having the situation played seriously--as dignity masking a general going-to-pieces--makes the film all the more funny. Almodovar sets it all in the kind of chic decor that, as in the days of the movie studios, looks as if it just came naturally with expensive apartments. The rest of the movie recalls all of those actresses who yearned in Cinemascope, with their red dresses, their dozen bedside photographs to indicate true love and their Scotch by the bottle. There's even some folk wisdom from Leo's nasty mother (Chus Lampreave), who snaps out of her half-senile raspiness to remind her daughter of her village roots, saying that Leo is starting to look "like a cow without a cow bell." You know, she explains, like a lost animal. It's this kind of smart, touching, charming and ticklish entertainment that's the lost animal, though. In The Flower of My Secret, Almodovar delivers a date movie smart enough even for the very married.

The Flower of My Secret (R; 100 min.), directed and written by Pedro Almodovar, photographed by Affonso Beato and starring Marisa Paredes and Juan Echanove.

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From the Mar. 21-27, 1996 issue of Metro

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