Flowers opens in San Francisco on Friday Jan. 15
opens in San Francisco on Friday Jan. 15

It’s January, and the release schedule — overflowing with goodness only a few short weeks ago — has transformed into a vast winter wasteland of terrible films. During the long holiday season, folks flock to the movies – then promptly abandon them in January and February. Meanwhile, the studios have to put something into cinemas — and it’s almost always barrel scrapings, misfires and duds.

Things aren’t quite as bleak here in Berkeley: for one thing, we have the Jan. 31 opening of the new Pacific Film Archive to look forward to, a very special occasion indeed. And if you don’t mind taking a trip across the bridge, there’s also a really wonderful little picture entitled Loreak (Flowers) opening at Landmark’s Opera Plaza in San Francisco on Friday, Jan. 15. (No East Bay play-dates are currently scheduled.)

Made in Spain but shot in the Basque language (according to IMDb, one of only 35 films ever shot in Basque), Flowers is an ensemble piece about a series of relationships that barely exist in the accepted sense of the word. Nonetheless, these nascent semi-relationships change the lives of all involved.

Unhappily married to leaden couch potato Ander (Egoitz Lasa), Ane (Nagore Aranburu) works as an office manager at a local building site. Childless and withdrawn, Ane suddenly and surprisingly finds her life brightened when flowers begin to arrive on her doorstep every Thursday.

The weekly bouquets provide no clues to the identity of her mysterious admirer, and Ander is naturally perturbed by the provenance of the puzzling posies. A trip to the local florist increases his frustration, as the staff either won’t reveal – or simply don’t know – who’s buying the flowers.

Beñat (Josean Bengoetxea) is a crane operator working at the same construction site as Ane. Beñat’s marriage to divorcee Lourdes (Itziar Ituño) has also been childless, leaving mother Tere (Itziar Aizpuru) unsatisfied and resentful of her daughter-in-law. Tere and Lourdes do not get along, and don’t hide their mutual disdain.

Fate intervenes, and Beñat is killed in a car accident – and whether by coincidence or not, Ane’s flowers suddenly stop arriving. The balance of the film follows Ane, Lourdes, and Tere as they come to terms with their changed circumstances and the unexpected connections between the three of them.

It doesn’t sound like much on paper (what – you’re not reading this on paper?), but Flowers is absolutely gripping stuff. Sensitively acted by all concerned (Aranpuru and Aizpuru are particularly fine), the film’s characters have plenty of room to breathe and grow, but there are enough empty spaces left for viewers to fill in the blanks as they see fit.

Flowers has deservedly scooped up tons of awards, including the SIGNIS award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival and (somewhat oddly, as Basque is not a romance language) the Cine Latino Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Pleasantly understated, elegantly made, and accompanied by a lilting, supremely tasteful Pascal Gaigne score, it’s a lovely way to start the cinematic year.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...