By Guillermo Severiche
During the 56th New York Film Festival in 2018, TropicalFront had the opportunity to talk to Argentine filmmaker Mariano Llinás about his latest film, La Flor, which will have its opening on Friday, August 2 at the Film at Lincoln Center. In his 803 minutes epic film, a 10-year-long project, Llinás marvelously crafts six disparate episodes starred by four actresses: Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa, and Laura Paredes. In this interview, Llinás expands on La Flor’s creative process, challenges, and achievements that strongly reveal his commitment to a particular way of understanding cinema.
One of the things I like to ask is how did you experience the creative process while making the film. In this case, since La Flor took about 10 years, time seems to be something more complex than it usually is.
I think that the film itself answers better than anything else. All films give that answer, but in this case, it is more explicit. For example, in the beginning, it is explained how the structure works and how this structure serves the actresses to do their thing. Some certainties are given, but they are false. However, these were certainties I had when I started making this film. It is like a game in the end. But the creative process, I believe, was to build a great object and experience discoveries on the way. I discovered what things needed to happen to keep the movie out of its trap. The worst thing that could happen was to create something that was all the same. So it was never based on arbitrary decisions. If you see the film, you can say “how free it looks”; however, we had to obey what the film was telling us to do.
The little drawing that you see at the beginning of the film was the guide. It was the first thing we had: four stories that start, one that is complete, and one that closes everything. It was the first thing I had in mind.
Given these complexities, how did you work on the screenplay?
I write screenplays fast. In some cases, it takes a while to invent them and solve them. However, I write fast. First, I had the idea of the mummy, which would be filmed as a game. I talked to the girls and we decided who will play which role and then I wrote it. Then, we filmed it. The same thing happened with the Pimpinela’s story, the second episode. It took me around four days to write the screenplay. However, sometimes, it takes me months to think about screenplays. I work that way. I write fast, but it takes me a long time to think about the structure. For example, episode four, for me, that was the hardest part to imagine. It took me years to think. At some point, I was invited to a film showing in Berlin with lots of people, but I decided to work. So I locked myself in the room for four days, all day, and I got it. Sometimes I didn’t write anything, just random words or I made drawings. But I understood the plot for this fourth episode.
I am not trying to be petulant, but I have an ability for writing. I usually don’t re-read what I write. There seems to be a sort of obsession with screenplays now. People seem to be very concerned about screenplays. I don’t feel it is there where the film gets defined. I think this happens in the shooting. There’s where life is. For example, in the last two episodes of La Flor, I didn’t write a single word. Nothing. We went to shoot with no words. We did it just by looking around and talking to the actors.
What were your expectations with the audience for this film?
With a very long story, you’re always thinking about the audience. However, something very strange happened. When we showed the first part of the film, during the Mar del Plata Film Festival, it didn’t work as well as it does now that we are showing it completely. I don’t know why. Spectators were not as supportive as they are now. That was a surprise. I was convinced that the film had this power to create tension and playfulness all the time. I guess people see now the first and second episodes with a better predisposition because they know there are many more episodes coming after. There is an expectation that allows you to see the film differently.
I always think about the audience. A filmmaker who does not worry about his audience is a filmmaker that does not know his job. When Godard says “the real problem of cinema is to know when a shot starts and when it ends”, he is also speaking about narration. How far can a shot tell the truth? Which means, how long can a shot be interesting?
One of the things I noticed watching the film during the festival for several days was how people meet and interact with each other while waiting for the film to continue. It created a little community that meets for several days.
Yes. I get obsessed with this film when I connect it to a kind of experience I had as a young person. I feel that if you are a boy that is starting to see cinema and wants to have a life in deep contact with films, La Flor gives you back something I had at a young age. It was very common to go to the movies all the time. I don’t know if that’s very common right now. Living between one movie and another. So, you used to go and see a movie, you leave the theater, go see another; you meet other people; you see the same people. I was shy, but I used to see the same girl in different places and I had my impossible love stories. Those are things that happen when you are a boy. I feel this film welcomes this sort of adventurous and young life. I think this is great because that was the role that films used to have. I didn’t think about this before. I feel people are going to remember when and how they saw this film.