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Spain's 'Flowers' arranges the mood but falls short on feeling

A tale of mysterious gestures and unresolved feelings, the brooding Basque drama "Flowers" — Spain's Oscar entry for best foreign language film — works mightily at mood but never satisfactorily threads its melancholy strands together.

There's genuine emotional suspense early on when, much to the consternation of her husband (Egoitz Lasa), unhappy housewife Ane (Nagore Aranburu) begins receiving weekly floral bouquets with no accompanying note. Then, separately, writers-directors Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga introduce another strained marriage in which Lourdes (Itziar Ituño), the wife, and her mother-in-law, Tere (Itziar Aizpuru), butt heads. Soon a story of missed connections feels oddly disconnected itself.

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A sudden tragedy followed by a new round of anonymous flower-giving — this time attached to sadness and loss — bonds the two storylines, but by this point the filmmakers have cast logic aside in favor of simplistic drama and self-conscious artiness.

When the directors trust their actors, the women's faces manage to cover a lot of ground, especially Aizpuru's and Ituño's, who convey the fraught terrain of grieving when it's poisoned by longstanding hurt. But elsewhere "Flowers" is too exquisitely formalist — symmetric framings followed by willfully asymmetric shots — to ever feel flushed with real feeling.

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"Flowers."

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

MPAA rating: Not rated.

Playing: Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles.

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