The Return to the Origins of Experience: Mariano Llinás’ “La Flor”

The Return to the Origins of Experience: Mariano Llinás’ “La Flor”

The Return to the Origins of Experience: Mariano Llinás’ “La Flor”

Eddy Baez

Talent Press, a section of Talents Buenos Aires, is a theoretical and practical program created for South American critics, writers, programmers, and journalists who reflect on new forms of cinema. Initiated by Berlinale Talents in collaboration with FIPRESCI and the Goethe-Institut, annual Talent Press programs and alumni network meetings are held in five cities around the world. For more details please visit http://talentpress.org/.

Mariángela Martínez Restrepo
Programmer Talent Press TsBsAs
Latin America Film/Critic Curator

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“La Flor” (Mariano Llinás)

Spring has finally arrived, and with it La Flor (2018), showing in the legendary Lugones Cinema of Buenos Aires. What to say about a 14-hour film shot over 10 years, spoken in various languages and dialects, composed of six episodes that are in turn made up of countless stories and thousands of film and literary references? Yes, Mariano Llinás’ latest film is a sweeping, unbridled project full of elements and facets one could write volumes about, with endless possible readings.

The movie is also an intimate and highly personal project, where cinema and life literally meet. The extensive shooting time gives us a final product and portrait of the director and his team; the passage of time provides a record of the different recording devices, some staging elements, and above all, the members of the Piel de Lava performance group (Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa, and Laura Paredes). Producers and actresses in the film, we see them grow up in front of the camera, much like the characters in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014).

La Flor, however, isn’t looking for narrative cohesion between the episodes that compose it. On screen, we see one story after another play out, with no apparent denouement or connection between them. Shining through them all, we see a passionate artist’s taste in literature and cinema, the latter described by one of the characters in the film as the “art of good storytelling.”

As in his past productions (“La más bella niña,” Balnearios, and Extraordinary Stories), Llinás takes advantage of every narrative opportunity that film as a medium has to offer. The first three episodes are, in this sense, practical examples of how to build a story with the fewest possible resources. Thus, a mystery, a musical melodrama, and a long spy-fiction plot play out unchecked between humorous bits and in the constant company of the narrator’s voice.

But why tell (so many) stories without an ending?

That lack of resolution indicates that, behind it all, there is an entity holding the stories back, that something or someone suspends that narrative possibility to produce an effect on us or introduce us to a new adventure. More precisely, after each cut, anxiety invades us, and the question as to why becomes more and more tangible.

In this way, the structure of La Flor leads us down a long path toward building a final meaning. The entirety of it — never homogeneous or unambiguous — can only be fully grasped if we can make it through all 840 minutes, and it is the arrangement of the stories and shifts in narrative tone that take us down that path.

“La Flor” (Mariano Llinás)

As of the fourth episode, we realize something has changed. In sweeping, nearly overflowing excess, the narrative folds back on itself to show us the story of a director who’s making a long film with the same actresses over a long period of time. It does this solely to establish a measure of contrast, so as to allow us to physically distinguish, perceptively, what film is capable of in the subsequent episodes.

By the time we get to the two final episodes, we understand that, rather than narrate a story in conventional terms, Llinás is more interested in us living out the experience of seeing and hearing film. He wants us to have the old collective experience of the full, dark theater. The director thus abandons that voice that explained everything and instead introduces other forms of narrative construction, and along with them, other ways of sensory exploration.

It was in the middle of a scene from “A Day in the Country” (1936) that what I was experiencing suddenly made sense to me. During the marvelous scene of the plane dancing on the clouds, I discovered that, for a brief moment, there is no character in the shot to look at — just us spectators watching the screen in the same way the characters observe their world throughout the film. They’re trying to understand everything around them and not getting it, just like we do.

It is this active state of perception that is underlined in the last episode. There, more than the captives returning home, what matters to us is the return of these four women in the frame, their bodies showing us the evidence of the passage of time. The reality of the record ends up imploding the fiction. What follows is a story with no end. Thus, the initial premise of building a film for these women ends up also being a film for us. A gift, a flower in the shape of cinema.

Mariano Llinás’ La Flor screened, in parts, at the 56th New York Film Festival between October 1 and October 12.  

About The Author

Eddy Baez

Freelance film critic and researcher based in Buenos Aires. She is doing an internship as a researcher at the Literature of Combined Arts II course at University of Buenos Aires, focusing her studies in the area of sound aesthetics. Currently, she is working on her first feature film, a documentary named "Interior."

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