Monday, February 02, 2015

Man of Flowers

Man of Flowers [Paul Cox - 1983)

This terrific film made in 1983 by Australian filmmaker Paul Cox is about an eccentric, lonely middle aged man [Norman Kay] who derives pleasure from flowers, bronze statues, music and a female stripper named Lisa [Alyson Best] whom he has hired to perform in his house once a week.

The film opens on a close-up of a painting and then segues into the striptease. Charles, too uptight [possibly due to premature ejaculation issues] to do anything [including talk] with the stripper when she finishes he runs out of the house across the street to the church to play the organ. Something he does with such frequency that the pastor has given him a key to come and go as he pleases.

But more than just another film about a lonely man the film has style. For instance flashbacks shot in 8mm [or possibly 16mm], accompanied with opera music in which we see young Charles who had a serious Oedipus complex, which led to him ogling his aunt and other women who come to the house. This in turn leads to beatings by his strict father [played by Werner Herzog!].

In the present day Charles tries to live a normal life but his search for perfect aesthetics and sexual frustrations as well as religious convictions [or confusions] lead him to a solitary confinement within his memories. Lisa, the young stripper, has problems of her own; her artist, drug abusing boyfriend is continually in debt and all they do is fight. Lisa thinks she has found a friend with Charles but really she needs someone her own age. Although she has decided to attempt a sexual relationship with her girlfriend for a while.

As in many of Cox's films the pace is leisurely but engaging and there is an undercurrent of melancholy with a touch of witty humor as well. Characters try to exert their individuality in unique and funny ways; in one scene in which Charles attends an art class is drawing a naked model [who happens to be Lisa] and what he draws are a bouquet of flowers. The busybody class teacher tells him he can't paint flowers in place of a naked body and he yells back that if she tries to stop him he will go to the arts board and claim artistic freedom.

The one weak character in the film is the artist boyfriend who tries to force Charles to buy one of his paintings so he can feed his drug addiction. However, his presence in the film drives the narrative - especially after he leaves Lisa with a black eye thus forcing Charles to take matters into his own hands. In short; don't mess with a mamma's boy.

The final shot of the movie is a beauty; as four men stand in a seaside park in the dark as the sun is going down overlooking the brightly lit sea and sky as seagulls fly around. It lasts about two minutes. My reading of this scene when I saw the films 20 years ago was that it says from the dark we see the light and therefore in the dark we see our dreams flying around but not away. Perhaps that's too fancy a reading but nonetheless it's a visual wonder to behold; like a painting by Caspar David Friedric.

The DVD is tough to find although it is available in Australia at a reasonable cost.

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