Photo: Grasshopper Film
by Matt McCracken Film Horizon Line

La Flor | Mariano Llinás

August 23, 2019

Argentine director Mariano Llinás’s La Flor is a project ten years in the making, and an ode to the sort of movies that filmmakers once made the world over, “with their eyes closed” — to quote Llinás himself, who introduces his film in its prologue (and shows up sporadically throughout). La Flor is less a single film, though, than it is six disparate genre experiments that contort and short circuit themselves, each other, and ultimately the whole itself: a Lewton-esque B-film; a The Seventh Victim-tinged musical; a six-hour-long send up of spy films that reminds one of Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 by way of Olivier Assayas’s Carlos; a meta-reflexive ‘who-knows-what’ film-within-a-film about the making of a film that goes horribly wrong on account of madness and witches; a remake of Jean Renoir’s incomplete A Day in the Country; and finally, before some 40 minutes of credits to the inverted image of a camera obscura shooting the production crew packing up, there is — in what is ostensibly an adaptation of a memoir belonging to Sarah S. Evans , but also looks to be a riff on D.W. Griffith’s 1912 short film The Female of the Species — a gauzily shot silent feature about four women escaping captivity at the hands of their land’s natives.

Needless to say, there’s already a lot going on here — and yet, there’s more! All but the fifth part of La Flor makes use of the same four actresses: Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa, and Laura Paredes, all of the theater troupe Piel de Lava (‘Lava Skin’). These women are, undeniably, Llinás’s muses, as is clear from both their presence and their absence. The first four films here also have beginnings and middles, but no ends; the fifth is a whole; and the final portion begins in media res and continues to an end, though perhaps less for itself and more for the project as a whole. Should that outline exhaust the reader, it is fittingly emblematic of the work itself: La Flor ever trends toward excess and parody, to the point that one can’t help shake the sense that it was conceived, and filmed, with Llinás’s own “eyes closed,” to twist the director’s words. A criticism, perhaps. La Flor borders on incoherence, at least in relation to the rules that have dominated narrative cinema. The only structure and purpose present throughout is the desire to pay tribute to both the female performers that energize the work and the old movies that Llinás obviously adores — alongside adhering to the arbitrary rules that the cast and crew have set for themselves (six parts, varying degrees of narrative completion, and a mostly fixed cast). There are worse things to endure, and I’m sympathetic to Scout Tafoya’s probing question (“How many [movies of this length] are there in a calendar year?”), which maybe is reason enough for the film’s existence, if not for watching it. There is also undeniable joy in seeing an image, or genre-trapping, cease simply paying homage and become something of its own — just as the film’s flirtations with parody can shift, powerfully, toward pathos; or to witness something obviously beautiful, like the lengthy sequence of aerobatic show planes flying around each other, that seems to arise out of nothing, and for no clear reason; or, indeed, to get so lost in such free-wheeling play that one is, per part four’s metatextual joke, literally unable to see the forest for the trees.

Beyond any of this, though, La Flor‘s principle power may rest in observing performers exploring the full extent of their capacities, with total freedom; and, as well, in comprehending that this writer-director is coming up against his limits, courtesy of a blind fidelity to these performers, cinematic genre history, and the creative process as such. In utterly fitting response to all of this, La Flor is, throughout, at the very edge of perpetual self-implosion and reassembly. Do its 868 minutes justify such an excess? Who knows; in truth, probably not, but one wouldn’t expect anything different from a project whose object was to resurrect the facility to make a film “with…eyes closed.”

Published as part of August 2019’s Before We Vanish.