The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Historias Extraordinarias (2008/Argentina/dir. Mariano Llinas) appeared at #55 on my original list.
What it is • It's a shambling shaggy-dog story told around a campfire (or better yet, around the smoldering ashes of a campfire the following, foggy morning - that's an image that suits its vibe much better). Or it's an epic tome thick not just with evocative words but suggestive sketches and lavish illustrations, so heavy you can barely lift it off the table or close it when you're ready to take a break - not that you'd want to. It's a cinematic endurance test of the most pleasurable kind, a charming, drifting variation on the visions of Tarr or Rivette; it's a winding boat trip down a leisurely flowing river; it's a daydream conjured while sitting at your desk in the back of a drab but cozy bureaucratic office buried in a nondescript building in a backwater burg located somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Historias Extraordinarias is all of these things - but specifically it is a 2008 four-hour Argentine feature film directed by Mariano Llinas, documenting three characters whose adventures - fleeing criminals after witnessing a killing, transporting possibly illegal goods down a river, and hunting an off-kilter treasure - take them through the urban and rural landscapes of Argentina at a leisurely, but never less than absorbing, pace. I rarely attend film festivals, but I stumbled across this movie when it was screened at a branch-off of the Maine International Film Festival when I was covering independent films for the Examiner website - a tangent so ordinary yet unlikely that Llinas himself might have come up with it. I was captivated and wrote about Historias Extraordinarias soon after; it remains one of the few under-the-radar films I ever beat Allan Fish to the punch on, that's for sure! (Though he wrote his own evocative review soon after.) The film remains hard to see, unfortunately, but that makes me all the more grateful I caught it when I did. Details of the plot remain hazy, but what lingers is the rare mood and tone of the thing, a light sort of magic you don't find every day - even though it's right there embedded in the "everyday", waiting to be discovered.
Why I like it •
I'd be a sucker for this movie under any condition because it captures a cinematic quality I adore but seldom experience: burrowing away inside little corners of a narrative, allowing the camera's capacity to record home movie-type casualness in the context of a grander adventure. As anyone following this list now recognizes, I love to see films play with opposite poles: Melies fantasy and Lumiere realism, satisfying entertainment and challenging art, or in this case grand epic and intimate detail. I'm particularly taken with Llinas' ability to capture the seed of excitement present within the mundane. With all that said, I also discovered the movie under ideal circumstances and that certainly contributed to my fondness for it. Or are they ideal? This may actually be a movie best suited to stumble across on television one lazy, rainy Saturday afternoon. You pause on the shot of the lion, maybe, or the murder glimpsed from faraway in a field, or the beautiful woman having lunch in the plaza day after day. You keep watching, uncertain what you'll find, but never expecting a tapestry of tales so luxuriously woven. I can envision watching Historias Extraordinarias this way too, and becoming equally enchanted. It's a movie which sparks your imagination while you are watching it, and then lives on in your imagination afterwards.
How you can see it • Not available streaming or for DVD rental from any American services, Historias Extraordinarias IS free on YouTube but...only for Spanish-speakers (there are no English subtitles unfortunately). Hopefully it gets a proper release in the near future; I'm so glad I stumbled across this film when and how I did. For now, you can read about it more extensively in the review I wrote a few weeks after my 2009 screening. And a clip is available at 4:23 in "Falling into the Future", the final chapter of my "32 Days of Movies" video series.
What do you think? • How does the film's approach contrast with other "long" films like Satantango or Out 1? What literary antecedents do you see expressed in the story (or stories)? Which part of the film is your favorite?
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Yesterday: The Last of the Mohicans (#56)
Tomorrow: 2001: A Space Odyssey (#54)