Freshly up on 3QuarksDaily, my latest Humanists film column on Pedro Almodóvar’s’s The Flower of My Secret:
Pedro Almodóvar’s overarching project, spanning three decades and counting, makes the most sense to me as the redemption of the soap-operatic. I see it in his films’ bright colors; in their plots driven by the sturm und drang of love, death, and betrayal; and in their besieged women who balance a certain noble endurance with a hint of trashiness. (Over time, the noble endurance has taken the edge over the trashiness.) Watching the entire Almodóvar canon, my brain files each movie as one episode of a single, melodramatic story, albeit a complicated, ever-shifting one which begins in extremity and will surely end in relative mildness. While the filmmaker doesn’t encourage this way of thinking — characters from one film don’t seem acquainted with characters from the others, though my, what notes they’d have to compare — neither does he discourage it. Formal, thematic, visual, and even verbal echoes resonate across his pictures, and in The Flower of My Secret, a few of them crash right up against each other.
Almodóvar builds the film around Leocadia Macias, known to her public — and to her public, only — as romance novelist Amanda Gris. Frustrated by a emerging dissatisfaction with her literarily unchallenging racket, a military-strategist husband who’s grown both emotionally and geographically distant, and the unquenchable aphrodisiac side-effects of one of her medications, Leo lets Amanda Gris’ novels go bleak. Bleak in a way, in fact, that meets the standards of Pedro Almodóvar pictures, although Leo’s sensibility, as reflected in an article she anonymously publishes against Amanda Gris’ latest opus, may have permanently taken this turn toward the Almodóvarian. Her life then takes its own swerve in the same direction.
Man thievery, drug addiction, crime, attempted suicide, family squabbles, a retreat to the village, difficulties with the maid, sudden revelations of artistic potential: Almodóvar’s followers, among whom I count myself, have come to expect all these developments from him and more. This film delivers them without doubt or hesitation, but some smell in it a whiff of the bitterness of an auteur chafing against his reputation. “We have the materials here for a comedy, but not the willingness,” Roger Ebert writes, “and gradually the awful suspicion dawns that Almodóvar himself, like Leo, is tired of his success and despairs that his producers will ever let him do something ‘serious.’”
Read the whole thing here.