Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga’s Flowers concerns the influence that a few vases of plants exerts on a handful of people who’ve reached disenchanting precipices, looking down the metaphorical tunnels of their lives so far to survey the might-have-beens or never-will-bes. At the opening, Ane (Nagore Aranburu) learns that she’s entering menopause even though she barely appears to be in her early 40s. Speaking for the audience, she asks her doctor, with heartbreaking resignation, “That early?” It’s apparent that Ane feels as if she’s been robbed of her youth, skipping from young womanhood to the status of elderly matron while enjoying little of that supposedly stable terra firma of comfortable middle age in between.
The audience learns that Ane is already a woman who feels unnoticed, as she’s in a marriage that might be cooling, while working at a construction site anonymously behind a desk as others hover high in the sky in the company crane. Then, out of nowhere, she receives a vase of gorgeous flowers, with no card to indicate the identity of the giver, and continues to receive vases, once a week, week after week, until something happens to stifle their arrival.
The film is about the joy and accompanying fear of being merely noticed, which can feel like a miracle when one perceives themselves to be permanently residing somewhere along the great, dark depths of invisibility. Cinematographer Javier Agirre casts the images in hues of blue and gray, bathing the film in a purposefully nondescript tranquility, so that the flowers stand apart as painterly bursts of red, yellow, and white. The audience is allowed to discern, visually, just how much their beauty emotionally means to Ane, a lovely woman who can’t recognize that loveliness about herself.
One waits for someone, just once, to throw a kink into the film’s well-manicured suffering.
There’s a wonderful scene in which one of Ane’s co-workers, Beñat (Josean Bengoetxea), looks down at her from the crane as she briefly takes her helmet off while searching for a lost piece of jewelry, her short hair toppling out on her head. It isn’t a prurient moment, but an episode in which a person appreciates the grace of another, who might be what Neil Young would term an “unknown legend.” Without knowing it, Ane offers Beñat a reliable oasis each day from his own cooling marriage, to Lourdes (Itziar Ituño), who’s frustrated with his domineering mother, Tere (Itziar Aizpuru). Ane provides Beñat with a dosage of quotidian transcendence, which, of course, is what the flowers come to offer Ane. This symmetry is fitting, as it’s almost certainly Beñat who’s sending Ane the flowers.
Flowers is a poignant, sturdily directed melodrama, performed by the actors with a subtlety that allows the audience to parse their characters’ sadness under layers of subterfuge. Lourdes and Tere, for instance, are understood to be terribly lonely and adrift, though they cloak it in outwardly obnoxious, alienating behavior that ironically reinforces their conditions.
But the aforementioned symmetry is a rub. The filmmakers have tidily diagrammed the resonances of the flowers as they circulate through the various characters’ lives; structurally, this is impressive, but the narrative grows neat and remote. For a film concerned with the existential reverberations of death, it’s skittish about behavioral messiness. Everyone heals, or doesn’t heal, on cue, and the initial pathos of the narrative is dulled by the architecture of its through lines. One waits for someone, just once, to throw a kink into this well-manicured suffering.