Mariano Llinás’s Historias extraordinarias was one of the most exciting things we saw in 2010. Now it’s getting a weeklong release at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Needless to say, don’t miss it. Here’s Damon Smith’s essay on the awesome, multi-layered, multi-tiered, multi-multi Argentinean masterpiece, originally published for Reverse Shot’s American All-Stars symposium.
A mysterious and slippery object no matter which of its many angles you examine it from, Mariano Llinás’s Historias extraordinarias (“Extraordinary Stories”) seemed to arrive out of nowhere in 2009. This exceedingly strange bundle of nested narratives dared to introduce scores of characters and storylines (some rich tributaries, others dead ends), perspectives and locales (Mozambique-for-India, the Salado River) with an almost ceaseless stream of omniscient voiceovers. Despite the recklessly unconventional approach, the film more than delivers on the come-hither promise of its title, blending elements of existential detective fiction, romantic intrigue, and Monte Hellman–esque road movie in a propulsive worlds-within-worlds metaconstruct that makes one forget all about its shabby digital-video format and audacious 245-minute running time—not to mention the incredible fact that it was made for $50,000. Novelistic in scope and ambition, ample in its temporal folds and ironic reversals, Historias is nothing less than an attempt to reorder cinema’s priorities around the act of dramatic narration, to question the nature of fiction itself, drawing on the fables and storytelling traditions of yesteryear. Jorge Luis Borges could not have written it better himself. Read Damon Smith’s entry in Reverse Shot’s American All-Stars symposium.