Myriam Mezieres’ directorial debut “Flowers of Blood” neatly turns the thematic tables on her mentor and co-helmer Alain Tanner, whose “A Flame in My Heart” and “The Diary of Lady M” — in which Mezieres starred and to which this is a kind of coda — were largely uncomfortable exercises in voyeurism. A vibrant but flawed exploration of the impact of the male gaze on the female psyche, shown through a close mother-daughter relationship, pic is happily some way from the recent navel-gazing abstractions that have left Tanner’s once-considerable rep hanging by a thread. Combo of helmers’ names could help “Flowers” to blossom quietly in niche markets.
Stripper Lily (Mezieres) and 9-year-old daughter Pam (Tess Barthes) lead a nomadic life as they move from bar to bar in search of work and flee hotels without paying, along with a mechanical swan that’s part of Lily’s stage act. One surreal sequence has Lily knocking ’em dead in a Spanish warehouse as part of a festival which celebrates the eroticism of vegetables. Unfortunately, the script abandons such comedy early on.
Back in Paris, Lily meets up with old buddy Elsa (Anne Fassio). In stark contrast to Lily’s own prospects, Elsa has been offered a role in a TV series. Lily then meets a pianist, Luis Varona (Diego Pelaez), and falls in love with him; however, when he ditches her, her spirit starts to crack.
As Lily languishes in a hotel bed, Pam moves on to the streets to steal. Soon a child protection agency is on Lily’s trail and Pam, with implausible rapidity, is institutionalized.
Five years later, Pam (now played by Louise Szpindel) emerges to find her mother in appalling shape and living in a multicultural squat with a good-hearted Algerian friend, Ali (Fellag). In the over-hasty final reels, emphasis shifts to Pam’s attempts to come to terms with her history, via her troubled relationship with the same photographer (Bruno Todeschini) who tried to rape her at a party.
The always watchable Mezieres successfully straddles the two halves of Lily’s character: the sensuous, red-headed man-eater, literally breathing fire, who’s only truly herself when dancing, and the victim, unable to escape from her image in men’s eyes as nothing but a stripper. However, a less man-dependent, more articulate Lily would have elicited more sympathy.
Barthes is terrific as the younger Pam, radiating a natural joy which makes her mother’s emotional dependence on her totally plausible; but the character’s transformation to a moody, embittered older girl feels forced.
Largely set in Paris’ cosmopolitan underbelly, pic reps a fascinating look at a pulsating nighttime subculture. Monica Goux’s editing does its best to snap things along at a faster-than-arthouse pace, though the film is still not short of longueurs. A couple of stand-alone dance sequences, though impressively performed by Mezieres, are over-extended.
Transfer to 35mm from digital video has resulted in a grainy look, particularly in nocturnal scenes.