Culture

Memory, mystery, bloom in Loreak

BEIRUT: The matter of memory is something traumatized peoples seem to share. Whether it’s a regime’s past crimes against its citizens or the excesses of an exhausted civil war, there tend to be two views on how to deal with the past. Some just want to forget. Others feel it important to remember.

Memory is the kernel of “Loreak” (Flowers), the award-winning 2014 feature of Spanish writer-director team Jon Garano and Jose Mari Goenaga. It will be projected at Metropolis Cinema-Sofil Sunday evening, closing Spanish Film Week.

“Loreak” does not tell stories from the Spanish Civil War. The 1936-39 conflict does come up once, during a television news report, which provokes the guy with the remote to change channels before the reporter can finish her sentence.

Careful as Garano and Goenaga are to place this historical elephant in the room, “Loreak” is a sort of love triangle without the love.

It unfolds in three chapters, the first entitled “Flowers for Ane.”

The film’s main protagonist, Ane (Itziar Ituno) works at the field office of a construction company somewhere in Basque country. She’s introduced during a visit to her doctor, who informs her that her body’s become prematurely menopausal.

The news provokes a twitch of surprise on her face and it seems much of Ane’s life is comprised of minute emotional bumps like this. She and her husband (the memory-averse guy with the TV remote) say little to one another during the film until she receives a bouquet of flowers one Thursday evening.

“Thanks!” she kisses him.

“What for?”

“The flowers! I thought you had them delivered.”

“What for?”

His attitude changes when the bouquet proves to be the first of a series of anonymous floral gifts Ane receives every Thursday at the same time. The film’s most successful – perhaps sole – comic moment comes when, after several bouquets, she and her husband drop round the florist to find out who’s responsible.

Neither clerk remembers much about the fellow who sent the flowers, prompting the worried-looking husband to ask whether they’d checked his ID.

“Well, no.”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit careless?” “Why?” a perplexed clerk asks.

“Because you don’t know what they’re for!”

“But they’re flowers.”

The bouquets keep coming and Ane clearly enjoys receiving them. Her husband doesn’t, as she’s aware, so she carefully conceals each new delivery and takes it to work with her Friday morning.

The first chapter ends when Ane learns that she’s lost her necklace, an engagement gift from her then-future husband.

“Benat looks down from above,” chapter two, centers on the life of Benat (Josean Bengoetxea), a crane operator on the same site as Ane. He’s married to Lourdes (Itziar Ituno), an impatient, ill-tempered toll booth attendant who has a little boy from a previous entanglement.

Like Ane and her husband, Benat and Lourdes’ life together has nothing to do with shared passion. What passions there are stem from Lourdes’ passive-aggressive relationship with Benat’s mother Theresa, who deeply resents her daughter-in-law.

As clarified later, one of the things Theresa and Lourdes differ on is matters of sentimentality. It’s a difference Benat shares with his wife. He drives his mom to the cemetery but is uninterested in visiting his father’s grave.

“As far as I’m concerned,” he says, “dead people are dead.”

“People don’t die,” she retorts, “until we forget them.”

The crane operator’s job is combines tedium and danger. Benat takes as much pleasure from it as possible, devoting his downtime to peering through a pair of binoculars.

Though he sometimes examines the site – including when Ane and her boss search for her missing chain with his metal detector – he prefers the wilder parts of the district, especially the flock of sheep that wander the adjacent hills. In a single flirtation with magic-realism, one of these sheep will make a couple of return appearances.

One of the strengths of “Loreak” is its filmmakers’ effort to take one of the great bugbears of contemporary art and society – “memory” – and refine it down to a few human relationships. This narrative reduction is reminiscent of Atom Egoyan’s 2002 “Ararat” – nominally a film about the Armenian genocide whose dramatic muscle wrestles with the human need to ascribe meaning to death.

The great challenge of such writing is to avoid nailing everything into place. Sometimes this is successful. The filmmakers prevent any love triangle cliches from congealing around their three principal characters by underlining Ane’s uncertainty about who her benefactor really is.

Benat is the main suspect in the bouquet-gifting mystery because he cultivates flowers on his balcony but the film stages only one work conversation between him and Ane. If this somber and lyrical work has a weakness, it’s in its narrative perfection. The pieces of the clock sometimes fit together a bit too well.

During their chat, Benat removes a flower from the vase and suggests that, if she wants to keep the bouquet from wilting, she should cut the stems every couple of days.

“So the cut must be open,” she observes. “If you want it to continue,” he replies, “yes.”

“Loreak” screens at Metropolis Cinema-Sofil Sunday Nov. 20 at 8 p.m. For more, see www.metropoliscinema.net/2016/

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 19, 2016, on page 16.

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