Review: ‘La Flor’ is a 14 Hour Exercise in Form Over Substance
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably expressed some interested in seeing Mariano Llinás’ fourteen hour mega film, La flor: a film consisting of six stand alone episodes connected only by the four lead actresses. At 868 minutes of unadulterated cinema split into four parts (or three depending on the cut), it is certainly enough to make any normal theater attendee roll over let alone form a blood clot. A time sink as massive as this requires special considerations before committing to Llinás’ marathon, so the question becomes: “Is La flor worth your time?”
Well are you a hardcore cinephile? If so, maybe. If not, certainly pass. La flor is a film that puts its form above all else. It’s length, its structure, its stories. All built around the idea of the very idea of cinema and it’s endless possibilities cinema, but in that pursuit, the film doesn’t have the substance to warrant itself. The focus on one film created by several smaller films is admirable, especially when you consider the efforts put into the project. However, the ask of the audience is too great for the product it provides, making La flor something I found more irritatingly bulky and unnecessary than insightful.
The structure of La flor is like that of a flower. The first four narratives are stories without ends (the petals). The fifth a full circle film from start to finish (the base). And the last a story that only has the end (the stem). Within such a construction, you’ll find a B-movie horror film, a romance musical, a spy espionage thriller, a meta story about the film’s lengthy production, a remake of Partie de campagne, and a 19th century period piece. All of which amasses to the longest film you or I will probably ever see.
La flor is everything, and nothing. Individually these stories are smaller derivatives of their influences, each containing brief flash in the pan moments of brilliance while constantly facing an uphill battle against the film’s length. These moments are nestled in hours of film, and getting to them is a task. It doesn’t make sense to wait thirty minutes to an hour for that one moment to come when the in-between scenes can’t sustain themselves. Admittedly very sad because when it lands, these scenes are profoundly adept.
A sequence where a captive looks to the stars and sees a world upside down. A segment where two spies cross paths and fall in love. The entirety of the sixth and final episode as Llinás comes to grips with the mammoth he has created. Scenes like these are excellent, and bring life to the film. Expecting every moment to be this proficient, this captivating is unreasonable in a 14 hour film. The problem is I found the inter-scenes more detracting than additive.
The film is made on a small budget, so certain caveats have to be made, but there are some sins in here. Egregious ADR takes most of the cake followed by abnormally poor dialog and scripting. Though the structure and overall message of the film is its allure, the content is just not there to last this long. Minute by minute. Hour by hour. The film is doing more harm to itself than it is good with this sort of production. The third episode is five hours alone.
What I think Llinás is trying to convey is the endless possibilities of cinema — that by removing the ends or beginnings of the film, you focus on structure and the moments within it rather than the narratives. Though the narratives have their purpose it is the events and scenarios which are varied and verging on disjointed that showcase the how many forms cinema can take. It’s an exercise in the boundaries of cinema, but for me, that exercise only works marginally when looking back on the structure. The filler is the damage, and when your film is 14 hours long, it feels more like an endless stream of conscious rather than a film with discipline.
At times technically insufficient and other times remarkably captivating, but more so the former than the later, La flor is a great endeavor that cannibalizes itself. For the length of the film, I cannot in good conscious recommend this film to anyone outside a small sect of hardcore cinephiles, and even then I would warn them to proceed with caution. I myself found it frustrating, and when I was in the thick of it, I wondered if I could even see it through to the end.