Monday, October 26, 2015

Submitted by Spain: Flowers

Floral bouquets are associated love and death. They are the tools of both courtship and mourning. That Ying and Yang can clearly be seen in Spain’s official foreign language submission to the 88th Academy Awards, Basque filmmakers Jon Garaño & Jose Mari Goenaga’s Flowers (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Ane Goñi has just been diagnosed with menopause, but she takes it rather stoically. It is just one more disappointment in life, like her husband Ander, to whom she will not bother passing on the news. However, shortly thereafter a big extravagant floral arrangement is delivered—and it is not from Ander. Every week, a new bouquet arrives, vexing her suddenly jealous husband.

Then one day, they suddenly stop, simultaneously with the death of Beñat, a crane operator with the construction company, where she works in clerical support. Of course, it takes a while for Goñi to figure out the connection, but when she does, she starts leaving weekly bouquets at the site of Beñat’s auto accident, even though she hardly knew the man. Eventually, Beñat’s widow Lourdes (now remarried) and his mother Tere discover Goñi’s weekly devotion, but their resulting reactions and assumptions are drastically different.

Rarely, has a film about love and loss ever been so rigorously unsentimental. Frankly, Beñat’s anonymous flower deliveries were more than a little stalkerish, yet they did bring some color into Ane’s relentlessly drab life. Indeed, all the character are acutely human, living in a world largely indifferent to their existence. Garaño & Goenaga even mark the passage of time through the disposition of Beñat’s body, which he donated to science, without consulting with his family. While this is a rather morbid strategy at times, it still heightens the sense of grand tragedy, somewhat in the tradition of the Japanese Oscar winner, Departures.

Granted, Flowers weaves together many tentative, almost fragmentary relationships, but Nagore Aranburu’s wonderfully subtle and complex performance as Goñi helps sell most of them. (The truth is, people can become preoccupied or even obsessed on the basis of very little.) Itziar Aizpuru is also terrific—and ultimately heartbreaking—as Tere, the dreaded mother-in-law who repents too late. However, the standoffish Lourdes is never fully fleshed out, leaving only bitterness for the valiant Itziar Ituno to work with. Generally, men do not get the prime cuts in Flowers, but as Ander, Egoitz Lasa has at least one well-turned scene that challenges many audience preconceptions.

As a Basque language production, Flowers might sound exotic, but the freeway interchanges and construction sites are as hum drum as any other western urban environment. Yet, they often look arresting thanks to Garaño & Goenaga’s dramatically cinematic sense of visual composition. Cinematographer Javier Aggire’s work is also truly awards caliber, using reflections, hazy precipitation, and the colorful contrast of the many titular flowers for striking impact. This is a mature and worldly film, in a scrupulously chaste way. It is also deeply humanistic, profoundly indulgent of human foibles, and unexpectedly moving at the most unlikeliest times. Highly recommended for sophisticated viewers, Flowers opens this Friday (10/30) in New York, as a bit of counter-programming for Halloween, at the Paris Theatre.