'The Flower of My Secret'***Rated RSpanish director Pedro...


June 14, 1996|By Chris Kridler

'The Flower of My Secret'

***Rated R

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's latest, "The Flower of My Secret," has one thing in common with his wonderful "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown": a woman in the lead role who is driven by an obsessive love for an unworthy man. But Almodovar has traded his edgy comedy for a touching and refreshing look at what it's like to live through rejection and grief and come out better for it.

Marisa Paredes plays Leo, whose longing for her husband -- who has joined the U.N. forces in Bosnia -- has turned the romance novels she writes under a secret identity into a brooding (and bad) stew of melancholy. She drinks too much, and when her husband finally tells her it's over, she feels she's hit rock bottom.

But what she finds is that in her secret darkness, there's a strength she never discovered. She makes a friend in a newspaper editor, is startled by the wonder of life when she discovers that her maid is a brilliant dancer (another secret flower), and finds strength in her family (especially her chatterbox mother, wonderfully portrayed by Chus Lampreave).

Paredes gives Leo poignancy and power, and while fans of Almodovar's zany side might miss his mambo taxis and spiked gazpacho, they'll discover new pleasures in "The Flower of My Secret."

The film opens today at the Charles.

"Nelly and M. Arnaud"

**; Unrated

Claude Sautet's "Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud" is a film of ideas. Or perhaps one idea, stretched (and stretched) over a couple of hours.

The thoughtful story has Emmanuelle Beart (known to us Yanks as the pretty spy in "Mission: Impossible"), fed up with her lazy husband and in need of cash, agreeing to take a job typing a manuscript written by the older Monsieur Arnaud (Michel Serrault). The money and her friendship with Arnaud give her a growing sense of freedom. She splits with her husband, and as she learns more about her employer and his past, the relationship between the two of them develops slowly.

While she finds intellectual and emotional comfort in Arnaud, Nelly is attracted to his publisher and develops a relationship with him. But neither connection is really complete, and there's a sweet wistfulness about the light, unconsummated link between jTC Nelly and Arnaud. We see how relationships are like overlapping circles, occasionally crossing but rarely lined up together.

It's an intriguing premise, but director Sautet doesn't make enough of it; put simply, the film is far too slow. Beart seems almost impassive at times, though the camera is devoted to her beautiful face. Serrault gives a fine performance as the frustrated Arnaud, but is he as frustrated as his audience?

The film opens today at the Rotunda.

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