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HARRISON’S FLOWERS(director/writer/producer: Elie Chouraqui; screenwriter: Elie Chouraqui/Didier le Pecheur and Isabel Ellsen, with the collaboration of Michael Katims; based on Ellsen’s book “Le Diable a l’Avantage; cinematographer: Nicola Pecorini; editor: Jacques Witta; music: Cliff Eidelman; cast: Andie MacDowell (Sarah Lloyd), Elias Koteas (Yeager), Brendan Gleeson (Marc Stevenson), Adrien Brody (Kyle), David Strathairn (Harrison Lloyd), Scott Michael Anton (Cesar), Quinn Shephard (Margaux Lloyd), Alun Armstrong (Sam Brubeck), Dragan Antonic (Chetnik); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: R; Universal Focus; 2000)
“…overly melodramatic…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A surprisingly dull and unmoving love/war story about a woman so obsessed with cooing over her missing hubby that she journeys to find her darling in what was then called Yugoslavia, in the Balkan war zone, in the middle of a brutal ethnic cleansing operation by the Serbs over the Croatians. It’s needless to say that such a labored tale can’t be anything but overly melodramatic, and though it was well-meaning in its attempt to show the insanity of war it was just too problematic to be convincing.

“Flowers” tells the story about the ideal New Jersey suburban couple Harrison (David Strathairn) and Sarah Lloyd (Andie MacDowell). He’s a fictional Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for Newsweek, who is world-weary and ready for a cushy desk job after seeing so much death in his recent assignments. But his boss Sam Brubeck (Armstrong) talks him into one more assignment for the team and after that there’s the promise of that cushy gig. She juggles being a homemaker and photo editor for Newsweek. The nuclear family consists of a young boy Cesar (Scott Michael Anton) and a loving little girl Margaux (Quinn Shephard). There is a tension between father and son, as the kid wants more attention and resents that dad is away so frequently. Fun for the family consists of watching CNN, of Cesar doing his homework, of Margaux playing submarine in the bathtub, and of Harrison taking care of the flowers he keeps in his greenhouse. Mom is just wide-eyed happy to look over the whole family and coo with contentment.

At the Pulitzer Prize ceremony honoring Yeager (Elias Koteas), Harrison’s establishment photog friend and recipient of the 1991 award, Harrison is confronted in the men’s room by a disgruntled photographer of little recognition, Kyle (Adrian Brody). The envious photojournalist tells the well-heeled Harrison that his little known photographer friend just got killed in Yugoslavia, and that Harrison gets all the glory but never gets the dangerous assignments. Before you can spell out Next Assignment, Harrison is caught in a bomb attack during the outbreak of civil war in Croatia. When he’s reported missing and presumed dead in the house that blew up, his besieged wife doesn’t believe he’s dead because she received a a late night phone call with no answer after the incident. She ignores all matters of protocol to follow in such cases and instead flies solo to the war zone to follow her gut feeling, hoping to reach a hospital in Vukovar–a city under siege and where her hubby if alive would have ventured to.

The war-torn setting is the only part of the film that seems gritty and real. Director/writer Elie Chouraqui’s best quality in this film is to take us as tourists into this quagmire of tank movements, massacres, rapes, snipers, and all the fogginess of war. After being left for dead by Serb troops on the move, she’s rescued by the emotionally torn Kyle. He does it out of a sense of guilt about what he said about her hubby and his spirit of adventure no matter the danger, as he and his slovenly but reluctant photog partner Marc (Gleeson) decide to help her. And, wouldn’t you know it, on the road blockaded by the Serbs they run into Yeager in the Croatian camp and he has a few smears of dirt on the polished face we saw at the Pulitzer fete. He has the audacity to tell her she should go home that a real war is taking place and not an ethnic skirmish as first thought, and that her husband is dead. But you know she can’t turn back now, that would just ruin the story.

The Balkan war is already yesterday’s news, so this film is not even looked upon as being topical. Besides there were numerous other films on this subject that were clearly superior, such as Welcome to Sarajevo. The film’s love story and dramatics never registered as anything but filler. “Flowers” is tedious except for a few well-constructed scenes showing the random nature of violence and how it might have really looked if CNN had gone there while the action was taking place. The message of the film is that “No one knows what this country is. . . . There are no bad guys, there are no good guys.” The film is dedicated to the forty-eight journalist killed during the conflict. Their purpose was to give the world a communal memory of the war. What this film’s purpose is, is anyone’s guess.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”