It's a four-hour movie cruise
Historias Extraordinarias tests your commitment to extraordinary stories
If most of the other films come from the Chekov drama camp, being small-scale dramas where little gestures count for a lot, writer/director/actor Mariano Llinas puts himself into a boldly Latin American groove, in the Gabriel Garcia Marquez style, in which sheer love of narration is the film’s driving force.
Historias Extraordinarias is over four hours long, and consists of three completely distinct story lines, each containing an unnamed protagonist. The nameless characters are simply called X (played by Llinas), Z, and H. The stories are linked by their setting; each tale plays out in the Argentine hinterlands where the plains and the slow-running rivers of the grasslands help shape the film.
It gets its Latin Wave moment with a 3 p.m. showing today at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Obviously, it would take quite a few words to synopsize the three stories. Let’s just say that X is an architectural consultant who sets out on a far-flung project. In his travels he comes across a violent crime in the act of commission. Fearing that he’s in danger because he’s a witness, he holds up in a small-town hotel and begins spying on the lives of the people around him as he tries to figure out what’s going on.
In his story, Z lives out a frankly Kafkaesque routine. He’s been assigned to run a branch office of a state agricultural service. When he falls too deeply into the routine that was established by his now-dead predecessor, his life takes on a Twilight Zone flavor.
Finally, H may have the strangest job of all. In order to establish the winner of an impossibly complicated bet, H sets off in his motorboat to document as a series of concrete markers along a sluggish, bayou-like river.
He soon meets a very strange old man who has been sent to dynamite those same markers. He’s on an absurd task, in other words.
Actually, there’s a hint of the Twilight Zone to the beginnings of all three stories. No offense to the great Rod Sterling, but that comparison is not flattering to a feature-length film, much less a two-features-length film that is usually shown with intermissions.
That is, old Rod’s tonic sense of irony needs some narrative oomph if you’re going to play a story out over four hours-plus. Happily, Llinas has narrative oomph in spades. In the few places where I felt the film was losing steam, Llinas immediately kicks it into overdrive with some surprising, and usually deeply satisfying twist.
In a recent interview Llinas described his film as a “narrative machine,” that cranks out stories even when no one’s in the theater. That’s actually an apt, if playful description. But it doesn’t do the film full justice. It turns out that all three stories are set on the road. They all involved journeys from A to Z.
By the end of the film you feel like you’ve made those journeys yourself, traveling across interior pampas that you didn’t even know you had, living strange and brilliant adventures.