Ane (Nagore Aranburu) is a pretty, somewhat timid woman who is diagnosed with early-onset menopause and is stranded in a marriage in which the fire burnt out long ago. Then she starts receiving a bouquet of flowers every day, each different but all of them beautiful, colorful, lively. Ane has no idea who is sending them — at first she assumes it’s her husband, but no — but she’s so pleased by the attention that she starts looking forward to their arrival, placing them in vases in different spots around her home.
Lourdes (Itziar Ituño) is a tollbooth operator who gets along fine with her second husband, Beñat (Josean Bengoetxea). But she resents him for not standing up to his mother Tere (Itziar Aizpuru), who regards the world through disapproving eyes and clucks her disapproval at the couple’s failure to give her a proper grandchild. Tere is the sort of person whose soul has aged into vinegar — she’s bitter, critical, set in her ways and unwilling to consider the world through anyone else’s perspective.
In Loreak (Flowers), co-directors Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga follow these three women after an unexpected tragedy ties them together — if not physically, at least spiritually. The film spans several years, giving the story enough time and sweep to show the different ways people gradually adjust to a life-changing event. Shot in Spain’s Basque region (the movie is in Euskara with English subtitles), Flowers has a vague political undertone that comments on how that country has dealt with its post-Franco reality. Some chose to pretend it never existed; others make sure to remember and never forget.
But the primary focus here is on people, these three women in particular, all of them strong but vulnerable, resourceful but damaged. Garaño and Goenaga, who also co-wrote the subtle script with Aitor Arregi, have said they were aiming for a cross between Hitchcock and Kieslowski, which is a perfect way to describe the film’s enthralling pull. There is an undercurrent of suspense surrounding Ane and Lourdes, who don’t know each other but are connected in a way only the audience is privy to. There is an eloquent profundity, too, in the way Flowers explores human nature and our tumultuous range of emotions — hope, resignment, grief, love — by observing and showing rather than telling.
Lourdes’ distracted, restless persona reflects the silent rage she feels toward her mother-in-law and her husband’s refusal to address it. Tere’s constant disapproval of everything and everyone around her — her seeming incapacity for happiness — feels like an integral part of her soul, not a character tic. And Ane, who is innocently oblivious of her unhappiness (or chooses not to succumb to it), is the embodiment of a person who takes delight in the slightest bit of joy: For her, the flowers she’s receiving infuse her drab existence with a jolt of beauty and color.
Flowers, which was filmed using longish takes, precise compositions and a spare but effective score, rewards careful attention (in one shot, Beñat does a quick, seemingly trivial thing at the edge of the frame that reveals a big twist long before the story does). The performances are superb, keeping the movie from spilling over into melodrama despite the considerable potential, and the emphasis on the three female protagonists allows the filmmakers to turn the picture into a symphonic exploration of love and loss told primarily through a feminine point of view. Flowers is a quiet, eloquent movie about big, overwhelming emotions, and the constant presence of its eponymous plants, in all kinds of colors and shapes, is a metaphor for the ways in which we respond to what life throws at us, be it a sudden trauma, a perpetual state of melancholy or an unexpected opportunity for romance. Some people blossom and bloom; others wither and give up.
Cast: Itziar Ituño, Nagore Aranburu, Itziar Aizpuru, Josean Bengoetxea.
Directors: Jon Garaño, Jose Mari Goenaga.
Screenwriters: Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño, Jose Mari Goenaga.
A Film Factory Entertainment release. Running time: 99 minutes. In Euskara with English subtitles. Strong adult themes. In Miami-Dade: Cosford Cinema; in Broward: Cinema Paradiso Hollywood; in Palm Beach: Living Room. Directors Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga will participate in a Q&A via Skype following the 3:30 p.m. screening at Cinema Paradiso on Sunday. For info visit www.paradisocinemas.com.