Part 2 of Mariano Llinás’s ever-expanding and increasingly gregarious La Flor begins in media res—albeit not at all where we last left off. “Somewhere in the 80s,” we are told by a now-narrating, now-omniscient Llinás at the beginning of this 342 minute part, four French-speaking spies are gathered “somewhere in South America.”
Global and geopolitical, this more novelistic drama spans several continents and countless characters, and though Part 2 is subdivided numerically and neatly into 10 smaller section, it nonetheless never reveals anything except what you do not expect it to.
Again and again, the audience is reminded that there are only “good guys and bad guys,” and that, as in any other slick, suspenseful spy thriller, there will be twists and turns, endless secrets and lies and characters who double-, triple-, or quadruple-cross one another.
Their mission, Operation Hercules, is framed once by a character named Casterman—an investigator in Brussels—and once more by a third-person narrator—clearly the voice of Llinás, a figure sometimes omniscient (and very able to inform us, in impressive monologues of the interiority of his characters), and sometimes, simultaneously, somewhat hesitant, qualifying all he reveals with a conditional “maybe.”
As we wait for a showdown between the film’s two sets of spies—a duel due to take place at dawn—Llinás surveys the film’s first setting in 360 degree spins of his camera, in long takes that are both placid and, at the same time, suggestive of who or what may be hiding and taking cover in the foliage of these flatlands.
With Llinás as our narrator, the viewer is given their own opportunity to investigate the espionage he himself may be up to. Working backwards, sometimes sideways, but never forwards, Llinás is evidently hard-at-work to build out a universe for a film far more aching, intimate and character-driven than one would initially expect.
There is an admirable amount of risk involved here, the filmmaker subversively focusing so much on characterization in a genre in which people, mere devices, are quickly introduced and just as quickly disposed of. It is a testament to the talent of La Flor’s four actresses, then, that this unpredictable procedure of Llinás’s works so well: their performances in four individual origin stories (occupying four of Part 2’s ten sections) are mostly silent, any dialogue almost always dominated by Llinás’s Spanish-language voiceover.
The first of these is for Theresa: a mute woman recruited to crack codes and forge signatures across Cold War-era Berlin (one noir-ific scene taking place on Fritzlangstrasse) and London, even encountering a giddily-grotesque Margaret Thatcher in her investigation of “The Bishop” and “The Ballerina.”
Unlike our other spies—agents who follow scripts—Theresa’s work is that of a spectator who solely and silently sits and stares. Something easier to see after subsequent stories is the strange significance of this, the most exaggerated, tongue-in-cheek, and even poorly-dubbed of Part 2’s stories: a sequential bait-and-switch by Llinás that begins first with farce and then with tragedy.
The more moving, more tragic background detail offered to our other spies seems to serve as a reminder to reorient our expectations. Returning to Operation Hercules’s earlier, initially quite inane scene, Llinás switches focalization from third-person to first—to the bound-and-gagged, and kidnapped Dreyfuss. In a surprisingly sweet and sincere inner monologue—in which he attempts to deduce whether he may be in Yugoslavia or Romania—he then stalls, and squints skyward to gaze at the inverted order of the Southern Hemisphere’s constellations of stars. Llinás’s strategy seems to be is that of the supplementary: a true deluge and surplus of information that adds only to replace.
Bringing us all the way to an Experimental Centre of Aerospace Technology in Sweden—an operation led by the wife of Dreyfuss—Llinás never again invites us back. Though technically throwaway, a series of blueprints scrutinized in this scene may immediately make La Flor’s eager audience sit up straight‚ and in spite of not, in fact, providing some superstructural solution that the viewer quite conditioned to look for, the line of dialogue offered instead may be exemplar of what La Flor’s audience ought to begin preparing themselves for. “It will get on fire with the crew inside. It will blow to smithereens.” Bursting brilliantly with the kind of errors that problematize narrative, it’s still no mistake that, later in Part 2, the viewer encounters another narrator: disembodied, off-screen, the voice of an utterly unknown woman whose presence alone undermines and renders unreliable Llinás’s organizational authority. Functioning similarly is a return to Llinás’s prologue, and Llinás’s later appearance a character within his innermost frame: a mole, named Boris, who confronts one of our Siberia-bound spies. Speaking only in Russian, there is seemingly no discrepancy between diegesis and extradiegesis, Boris’s contribution (that the earth could be circled five times with the network of rail tracks in the Soviet Union) and how it is conveyed in Spanish-language voiceover.
Challenging a hierarchy that destructively designates what kind of information is and is not essential to a story, Llinás is, once more, reluctant to offer a resolution that could—retroactively—make the viewer’s 3-, 9-, or 14-hour investment “worthwhile.” Mention of the Proustian quality of the venom of a Tsetse fly aside, more apparent than ever is how unlikely there even exists an ending that could satisfactorily unify such different stories, a parting gift that would allow the viewer to tidily fix their interpretations, so that they may move on. La Flor—so courageously self-aware of its own disposability—instead asks its viewer not to call Llinás’s bluff, and to find their gratification elsewhere. Fortunately, in this sometimes deadpan, sometimes slapstick comedy caper—a film full of present-tense pleasure and so playfully in love with narrative as a tool of “knowing” (“gnarus”) and “telling” (“narro”)—there is, as of now, no shortage of places where one might find it.