If Joe Mankiewicz were alive, one could imagine him wanting to remake “Flowers,” with its poignantly old-fashioned premise that also comments on contempo society. Sophomore directors Jon Garano and Jose Mari Goenaga, along with co-scripter Aitor Arregi, could use a little of the Mankiewicz touch in deepening characterization through modulation, but their story of three women unexpectedly brought together by floral bouquets is elegantly lensed and warm-hearted to the core, without getting sappy. A rare Basque-lingo production that could see a European release if marketed right, “Flowers” should also become a staple in Iberian showcases.
A trip to the doctor tells Ane (Nagore Aranburu) that she’s more or less fine, apart from early-onset menopause. For this lonely, childless woman, stuck in a less-than-happy marriage to Ander (Egoitz Lasa), the news is just one more finished chapter in her life. Then a bouquet of flowers arrives with no note — who are they from? The question becomes more acute as new arrangements arrive every week. Ane truly doesn’t have a clue who’s sending them, but her whole outlook changes: She now observes the world with curiosity, casting expectant glances at people in public and wondering, “Could it be him?”
Audiences know the sender is Benat (Josean Bengoetxea), a crane operator employed by the construction company where Ane is secretary. The sweet-natured, unassuming man is married to Lourdes (Itziar Ituno), a toll-booth worker with a son from a previous marriage and a headache in the form of Benat’s meddling mother, Tere (Itziar Aizpuru). On a rainy night, while heading to pick up his wife, Benat’s car crashes and he’s killed.
As unexpectedly as Ane’s flowers appeared, now they’re gone. Meanwhile, Lourdes’ stymied sense of mourning leads her to sweep away all traces of her husband’s presence, and though a suddenly sensitized Tere tries to finally connect with her daughter-in-law, her attempts are rejected. By chance, Ane discovers the identity of her late admirer, and she starts placing flowers of her own once a week at the crash site. Three years later, Benat’s widow and mother encounter the mystery woman with this unexplained floral devotion, with predictably divergent responses.
Like the semi-transparent film around a bouquet,
Garano and Goenaga (“In 80 Days”) wrap “Flowers” in a layer of discreet melancholy. All three women are unfulfilled, and their unrealized dreams of what life would be like at their age act as a constant irritant. For Bena,t too, marriage isn’t what he anticipated, yet his sweetly romantic though cowardly secret-admirer act is itself a sign of his inability to express his feelings openly. This general lack of communication is reflected not only in the minimal dialogue but also in the way the widescreen lensing isolates the figures, emphasizing their distance from one another.
Lourdes’ bitterness lacks fuller motivation, and her character requires more depth, especially as there’s little sign her marriage was ever a love match. A little more of Benat’s psychology would also help (the menfolk are all on the sketchy side), and Tere’s sudden change of heart regarding her daughter-in-law feels too abrupt. But these are minor quibbles about what is, in essence, an affecting story of loss and the ways people cope. The three lead actresses, beautifully cast, form just enough of a contrast to each other to create extratextual tension while maintaining a high degree of sympathy.
Javi Agirre Erauso’s spare visuals are complemented by the production design’s earth tones, adding to a sense of interiority, the kind associated with rainy days that go on for weeks. That’s why Ane’s renewed openness to life once she starts receiving the flowers acts as such a pick-me-up.