Over the holiday weekend I was pleased to find Netflix sent me an Almodóvar film from my queue. The Flower of My Secret tells the story of Leo, a highly successful romance novelist with a nom de plume that protects her from worshipping fans. Leo’s husband Paco is serving in the army in Brussels and they never get to see each other. It has turned Leo’s usually “pink” world “black”—her romance novels, which once flowed quickly and easily, have turned into books like her recent manuscript The Cold-Storage Room, about a wife who kills here husband and hides him in a neighbor’s restaurant freezer after she discovers he committed incest with their daughter.
The film begins with a simulation run by the National Transplant Organization. A woman is being told her teenaged son has been killed in a traffic accident and has no brain activity. Would she like to donate his organs to save lives?
If these sound familiar, it’s because the first aspect is the plot of Almodóvar’s most recent film Volver and the second, the basis of the film All About My Mother.
It’s in Secret that we first meet Manuela, the grieving heroine of Mother, in a prescient setting: signing away her dead son’s organs. The simulated grief in Secret becomes the real, unbearable, unlivable grief of Mother and even Marisa Pareides, who plays Leo in Secret, appears in the later film as world-weary, love-lorn actress Huma Rojo.
And the story of Volver has uneasy coincidences with Secret too. In Volver,, the film opens with heroine Raimunda cleaning off the grave of her dead mother in their remote village. In Secret, Leo’s mother begs to return to the village where the family once lived, and by the end of the film, she does, taking Leo with her. These sets are the sets of Volver, this house, this courtyard, this village. It’s the setting of Leo’s unpublished novel.
Like the other films, the color red is crucial in The Flower of My Secret. Here, it is a marker of passion, both artistic and romantic, and probably also insanity to some degree as Leo’s grief over losing her husband envelops her.
It’s why Almodóvar is a genius, these nested films butting up against each other in his oeuvre in an odd, surprising way. It gives me a new concept of body of work. His work is a single body.