'Flowers' Weaves a Beautifully Melancholic Tale of Grief, Loss, Memory, and Love
It's in the quiet and contemplative moments that Flowers can be seen to grow.
FlowersDirector: Jon Garano, Jose Mari Goenaga
Cast: Nagore Aranburu, Itziar Aizpuru, Itziar Ituno, Josean Bengoetxea
Distributor: Music Box Films
US Release Date: 2016-03-01
"You have to leave the cut open", says crane operator Benat (Josean Bengoetxea), regarding the stems of flowers and the proper care for a bouquet; "Over time the wounds heal". This metaphor extends to the heart of Flowers, a film that quietly meditates on the nature of grief, and what that can mean for different people.
Artfully directed by Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga, the Basque-language film follows the separate lives of three women whose paths irrevocably intertwine when they all experience the loss of a single person in a myriad of ways. Spanning a time period of five years, these women find that time doesn't make grief disappear; instead, grief continuously evolves, morphing into different forms and changing each person, affecting them for the rest of their lives.
Ane (Nagore Aranburu) works at a construction site, and when we first meet her, her life seems empty and bare. Her marriage is unfulfilling, her job even more so. But, things begin to change for Ane when she suddenly starts to receive flowers from an unknown sender. The flowers awaken something in Ane: excitement, possibly, or a sense of purpose. Her search for the mysterious sender explores the disconnect she feels with her own husband.
Meanwhile, Ane's coworker, Benat, has his own struggles to deal with at home. His wife, Lourdes (Itziar Ituno), and his mother, Tere (Itziar Aizpuru), are constantly at odds over Tere's interference with their lives and the pressure she puts on Lourdes to have a child.
Shared tragedy bring Ane, Lourdes, and Tere together in a fortuitous set of events, and throughout their journey through grief, flowers remain a symbol of how loss can change through time. The flowers mean something different to each character at different points in their lives, connecting them to love and understand each other. Memory also plays an integral role in Flowers, moving us to contemplate on what death really means for a person's spirit.
Nagore Aranburu portrays Ane with elegance and subtlety. Her feelings are so subdued that at times it's difficult to discern what exactly she's thinking at any given moment. The tendency to hold her feelings close to her chest is partly what causes Ane to become swept up in these tragic events. The breakthrough performance, however, is delivered by Itziar Aizpuru, who portrays the widowed Tere. She's fierce and proud, but grief is etched in her face and her eyes convey her longing to keep remembering the deceased.
Lourdes is a more complicated character as someone who wants to forget, to push her grief aside in order to move on. There are even times when Lourdes is somewhat unlikeable for her refusal to face the facts. Itziar Ituno plays those nuances perfectly. I wish more time was spent with her character. The emphasis on Ane at times makes Lourde's grief seem less important, and I would love to explore the mindset of Lourdes as she deals with her loss.
Garano and Goenaga maintain a minimalist approach in conveying their story about loss. The cinematography is simple and stark, focusing on a few key images that repeat throughout the film. Through this simplicity, the emotions of the characters are brought to the forefront, and it's the focus on the lives of these women that really makes the movie shine. The realism presents the story as ordinary - something that could happen to anyone - and this timeless feeling of grief becomes a universal story that transcends language and culture. At times, the imagery can be a bit on-the-nose: flowers wilting and dying, and arrows pointing the way to move forward, but they're so beautifully shot that you can simply sit back and soak in their symbolic meanings.
The music also follows the rule that “less is more”. There are a few moments when Pascal Gaigne's orchestral score supports the climax of a scene, driving emotions such as longing, fear, and mystery; but more often than not, the silence is more profound as the subdued noises only serve to heighten the feelings of each character. The silence doesn't only aid the characters in the film, it also provides the viewer with time to meditate on the meaning and the emotion of the film to become a participatory experience, making the story less voyeuristic and more of a shared reflection on the human condition.
Flowers stands out as the directing team's most mature effort to date with it being the most successful at representing their artistic style and vision. Take their 2010 film, 80 Days, which also stars Itziar Aizpuru and features Pascal Gaigne's score. Like Flowers, this film is also quiet and meditative, meandering through the lives of two women as they explore their identities at an old age, but the movie often lingers on scenes for its own sake, eschewing meaning for atmosphere.
In Flowers, the directors are able to imbue the film with their slow and thoughtful style, however they have also learned to utilize these tools to convey character depth and growth, and move the story forward even as it pauses to reflect. For example, the pervading silence symbolizes stifled communication and the lingering focus on flowers makes us constantly reconsider what they might mean at any given moment in time.
Too often, films in the grief genre try to impart a treacly message at the end: words of wisdom about the importance of moving on, or how death can teach us to live life more fully. Flowers takes the opposite direction, observing that there is no end to grief, and sometimes all you can do is simply let it run its course. Ane, Lourdes, and Tere pass off flowers between each other like a baton, and at the end of the film, each woman has begun a new cycle of grief. All we can be sure of is that as long as someone remembers the deceased, the cycle will continue.
The DVD, distributed by Music Box Films, includes "The Making of Flowers", a short documentary on how the film was made. Like the movie itself, the documentary is minimalist, providing a few interviews, but mostly focuses on clips from behind-the-scenes. Also included are a Q&A with the filmmakers and a press conference from the San Sebastian film festival. These informative features provide insightful commentary on the film and its themes, and are well worth a watch.