Ostende (2011)

I’ve been doing my ‘Global Cinema’ series for just over a month now, and this coming Saturday I’ll be up to Argentina, which is the largest filmmaking nation I’ve covered so far, and probably deserves more than a single film, not least because I’ve seen plenty of Argentinian films over the past few years. Some of them I covered in my South American cinema week, including foundational oppositional film The Hour of the Furnaces (1968), and other more recent ones like Mariano Llinas’s La flor, and the works of Lucrecia Martel. Through her production company, the director of today’s film was involved with La flor and Llinas’ other work, and is an important figure in the newer efflorescence of indie filmmaking in the country, cleaving to a slow cinema style which may or may not pay dividends depending on your mood. I’ll be featuring a number of other Argentine films of this millennium over the next few days, a lot of which confront not just the country’s past but also topics of sexuality and sexual identity in particular.


A slow burning movie in which, I suppose at one level, nothing really happens — it’s about a young woman (Laura Paredes) at an off-season hotel resort where barely anyone is staying. She’s won the vacation in a competition, and her boyfriend is joining her for the weekend, but in the meantime, there’s some tedious admin at the front desk that clearly bores her and her room and the pool, and then she spots some other women and an older guy who seems to be a bit creepy, and who at length talks to her about something insipid, and suddenly the young woman gets curious about what’s going on. Because there’s so little to do, it becomes a bit of a compulsion for her, like Rear Window: imagining the worst and spinning out stories in her head. In fact, the film is at a certain level about storytelling itself, because another character, a young waiter a local cafe, has his own film treatment he’s had in his head, so there are a few wild stories going around, and when her boyfriend finally arrives, she elaborates what she’s been thinking to him. But yet, still very little happens, it’s all in glances and movements and voyeuristic long shots (shades of Kiarostami too) in which we can’t hear anything, but can imagine some of what’s going on. Others may find it boring, but I thought this to be a compelling story about boredom and imagination.

Ostende film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Laura Citarella; Cinematographer Agustín Mendilaharzu; Starring Laura Paredes, Julián Tello, Santiago Gobernori; Length 82 minutes.
Seen at home (Mubi streaming), London, Thursday 4 June 2020.

La flor (2018)

There’s nothing out at the end of this week in UK cinemas that’s inspiring me to any themed week so I thought I’d return to some of the ones I’ve already done with follow-up reviews. I’ll start with my South American cinema week, which was on the occasion of the (necessarily limited) cinematic release of La flor. I spent three nights in a cinema for this one, so here is my review.


I can’t say if this movie is good in any traditional sense, but I suppose by the end of any 14 hour movie, anyone is likely to be a little unclear on critical categories, though the fact this is out there is in a sense worth more than any individual detail within it. It’s also not a film in which the visual style is its most important feature. The director, for example, is overly fond of shots with a shallow depth of focus, as figures move blurrily into the foreground. It’s also frequently discursive, sometimes in ways that are a little dull — I may have nodded off once or twice. The third episode out of six, for example, takes up the entirety of the second part (over five hours), itself split into three and then with countless other sub-headings as its spy genre drama flits between countries, and back and forth in time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s a film that, at a formal level, is clearly intended to be screened (as I saw it) over three nights. Its director, Mariano Llinás, pops up in little interstitial scenes in each of its three parts, and makes reference not just to where we are within each part, but elaborates the overall structure via messy handwritten notes in his diary. He has a trolling sensibility too elsewhere, as quite aside from the (surely almost mandatory) scenes of characters relieving themselves deep into the epic runtime, he opens one section with loud snoring, cuts out the sound entirely for another episode, deploys ostentatious dubbing for foreign voices even while clearly using Argentinean actors (to our ears the American and British ones seem particularly ill-suited to their actors, and that’s quite aside from the presence of Margaret Thatcher as a character), he fiddles with the light levels even while a scene is playing out (rendering the subtitles briefly unreadable), and seems to have flies stuck to the camera lens at one point. In fact, episode four is structured around a paranormal investigator trying to understand the director’s own notebook, after an extensive sequence of him (played by an actor) dragging his forlorn crew around filming a drama about some trees.

Whatever else it might be, though, this is a film that is in love with the act of storytelling. Rivette’s Out 1 may be an obvious reference point in terms of not just a focus on acting (here the same four women play roles in all but one of the film’s six episodes), but also its use of secret societies and shady cabals pulling strings behind the scenes. However, La flor is mainly just obsessed with weaving plots, and Llinás uses genre cues to set them up, whether the long, tortuous espionage plot of the third episode (with flashbacks and sub-plots for each of its spies), the supernatural mummy of the first, or the fetching story of two singers who have divorced but still work together, intercut with a secret society working on a deadly scorpion poison, though at two days remove I can no longer remember quite how that works into the story of the singers. That said, none of the first four episodes have much of a resolution: the point, really, is in the telling of the stories, not where they go.

The lack of resolution, which the director’s diagrams suggest may be solved in the final two episodes, but these — which only come in the final couple of hours (a good half hour of which is taken up by the credits) — may prove to be unsatisfactory for those who have stuck out 12 hours in the hope that it will all come together. No, what this is all about is just a love of narrative and of acting, and the various ways that all of these roles and stories can be reconfigured and recombined. It’s perfectly happy along the way to poke fun at itself — the way his four leading ladies (witches, briefly, in episode 4) react to the idea that they might have to do another episode in French after the epic episode 3 (in which they play French-speaking spies) is particularly great, but then the film is filled with throwaway moments of fine acting and self-effacing humour. I can’t tell you that you’ll find it thrilling or promise 14 hours of non-stop fun, but it does have its rewards, and it’s clearly not willing to compromise either.

CREDITS
Director/Writer Mariano Llinás; Cinematographer Agustín Mendilaharzu; Starring Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa, Laura Paredes; Length 807 minutes (not including intermissions).
Seen at ICA, London, Friday 13, Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 September 2019.