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Locarno 2018. Mariano Llinás's "La Flor", Part 3

Mariano Llinás's 14-hour epic draws to a close with its final three episodes—but may in fact stretch to infinity.
Ross McDonnell
La Flor
“It’s been a pleasure,” Mariano Llinás politely informs us between Episodes 4 and 5 of this film’s 320-minute, thorny third part, before he hits the road in his blue Volvo and leaves La Flor’s loyal viewers in his rear-view mirror. After the sizable, solitary Part 2, Part 3 is formed in fits and starts, a crucial and challenging Episode 4 followed-up by flash fictions, a further two curiosities that anticlimactically conclude the 14-hour La Flor. For the first time, the viewer re-enters the film with the knowledge that, in however-many hundred minutes that remain, La Flor, at last, will cut to black—and indeed there is something stress-inducing involved in watching our showman-storyteller Mariano Llinás carry his project across the finish line. Even an abrupt, unresolved ending is still an ending, and in spite of all evidence to the contrary, a viewer at the beginning of Part 3 would wonder if the sum of La Flor’s partial parts may still amount to some unified whole.
Episodes 5 and 6 move slowly, the former the film’s most acute counterpoint: a romantic re-adaptation of Jean Renoir’s take on Guy de Maupassant’s A Day in the Country (Partie de campagne). Though re-locating the text to contemporary Argentina, La Flor’s four actors are nowhere to be found, and their absence is truly palpable. The latter, an adaptation of fragments from the possibly-fictional turn-of-the-century memoirs of Sarah S. Evans, thankfully reunites Llinás with this quartet, who appear here as the titular colonist, a creole woman, a mestizo girl, and her mother. Llinás’s camera—covered, who knows how, in a lush layer of material—nonetheless keeps his players at a distance, undifferentiated from one another in dried-out and cracked compositions. Above all, Episodes 5 and 6 might act as an opportunity for the viewer to reflect on their own reluctance to exit one story and enter another, and perhaps these relatively underwhelming entries both follow the excellent Episode 4—La Flor at its most fantastic and frustrating.
The viewer does not initially realize that the filmmaker at the centre of the exhaustingly metafictional Episode 4 is not actually played by Mariano Llinás. The filmmaker—absolutely still a stand-in for Llinás—only appears on-screen long after the Episode begins, and long after there begins a mutiny among his four actors. They are, of course, played by La Flor’s four actors, and after filming his project “The Spider” for six straight years, when the actors demand from him a finished script (“the know-it-all knows nothing!”), their filmmaker flees for the forests. On September 13th, a Tuesday, Episode 4’s filmmaker begins writing in a notebook (of a reminiscent red color), a diary of his travels and the details of his new fascination with filming trees, and, later, how exactly his film’s spider-like structure must be expanded into that of an ant. 
If this sounds too familiar—too indulgent, disappointingly direct or self-referential—and, not to mention, a repetitive use of a somewhat lazy expositional device, it is fortunate that in its second chapter, La Flor’s Episode 4 grows more interested in reflecting not Llinas’s filmmaking process, but the viewer’s experience of watching Llinas’s filmmaking process: a depiction of one tormented man’s egocentrism framed by another. Unsurprisingly in a film full of narratives that are timed to self-destruct, the first chapter of La Flor reaches a certain limit, and so turns around to fold or implode in on itself. An ellipsis pulls the viewer forward a few months later, leaving one to wonder why a newly-introduced character, a man named Gotto, has travelled 5,000 miles to himself investigate what becomes all of our shared episode of interest—why and how a certain filmmaker’s blue Volvo has been found up chased up a tree, an asinine absurdity nonetheless consistent with La Flor’s integral tongue-in-cheek imagery, its most self-aware puns puncturing holes and deflating the film’s fictions. 
Told in a one-sided epistolary style, Gotto is equipped with a map and magnifying glass, eventually acquiring the very notebook that framed all of the Episode’s first chapter. And though Gotto’s entrance to the situation is of course different to the viewer’s—the latter always at the mercy of the motivations of the former—he remains their only hope to move forward through this interactive hypertext. What follows is a proliferation plot to pick apart like Prometheus: a sliding scale of information whose consequentiality is contingent on the degree of the recipient’s patience and paranoia. Fully capable of fulfilling their own fantasies, the viewer is asked to actively participate, although to work with such a large amount of material—and to expand one’s capacity to retain more and more information as their resources deplete—means that to interpret La Flor is to be subjective and selective, to ruthlessly reorder the pieces of its puzzle in whatever way one sees fit. Circling back and swapping one stand-in for another, it is a process that recalls the inability of the filmmaker to himself see the forest for the trees in Episode 4’s parody of contemplative hermeneutics.
Against all odds, Episode 4 actually does arrive at an ending: our detective discovering beneath a paragraph in a translation of Casanova’s memoirs and written all in capitals: “EUREKA.” The text in question writes of Casanova’s unconsummated sexual relationships with four women, his advances welcomed and then rejected, until the realization that the supposed-protagonist was no more than a mere proxy for these four women to communicate with one another. This is—of course—indicative of the inherent tautological endlessness of desire, “ad nauseam” arousal and so-called reading-for-the-plot, the desire to end desire, to finish what you have started. A postmodern, metaphysical mystery of a man and his muses, this specific narrative is perhaps not so groundbreaking a full five decades after the beginnings of poststructuralist theory and at least four decades after Jacques Rivette’s Out 1, but what follows—a self-reflexive self-portrait of filmmaker and his regrets—is a surprise both real and redemptive. Determined now to pivot back from plants to people, and reintroduce to his film the human element Llinás laments, and likens his the four of his actors to a flower.
After six episodes, the full 808-minute La Flor can be seen as Llinás’s final genre experiment, an unfriendly yet flexible film serial that still gives more than it takes. With internal ellipses that leave endings out, or cut episodes short, the lack of any obvious connection between Episodes 4, 5, and 6 might reflect the disconnected nature of the film as a whole, speaking to how these short stories are not in fact speaking to one another. To watch La Flor is to allow Llinás to elude you, to understand that his sparks of spontaneity and seemingly improvised narratives are nonetheless terribly thought-through. At the same time, implicit in this incompletion is a certain ceding of control, an offer of authority and authorship extended from Llinás to his viewer. The filmmaker prunes the narrative only in order to stimulate its growth, to make space for something new. Stretching into infinity, and incredulously beyond its aforementioned “EUREKA” moment, La Flor’s Episode 4 in fact continues and concludes in its own alternative way—one that is endless rather than ending-less. Another series of questions are raised only to go unanswered, and for the first time, Mariano Llinás’s love of the lack of endings strikes us as miraculous. Enough is enough.


Mariano LlinásFestival CoverageLocarnoLocarno 2018
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