VIFF 09: Day 15 10/16/2009
Directed by Mariano Llinas
Extraordinary Stories is one of the biggest, and certainly one of the most welcomed surprises I’ve had at cinema in recent memory. At over 4 hours long, with a complex multiple story narrative, it is not likely to receive widespread distribution. I must say it is worth all the effort it may take to see it.
The opening scene is so over narrated, that right away we clue in to the fact that this is a film that wants to comment on narration. In fact, Extraordinary Stories both celebrates and criticizes narration; sometimes it goes too far and does the thinking for us; other times we are shown how invaluable narration can be as it reveals things to us that could not otherwise be revealed. In one instance, we think there may be a typo within the subtitles when a female character is referred to as "he". However, perhaps this is not a typo, but the narration calling attention to itself as something that may be lying as it applies narrative to ambiguous images. One critic likened the ironic tone of the narration to that of Dogville. Although, I don’t find them too similar, but the films do bear likeness in one regard; they both bring attention to the power of our own imagination. Whereas Dogville asks us to accept a soundstage as a small American town, Extraordinary Stories asks us to apply the detailed narration to less than detailed images, and therefore has us complete the stories ourselves.
Narration isn’t the only thing deconstructed in the film. Many storytelling devices are utilized and broken down; each wielded to perfection by filmmaker Mariano Llinas. The soundtrack is unbelievably varied. Llinas uses melodramatic music that underlines emotions, avant-garde guitar, spaghetti western music, and pop songs. The film is not afraid of approaching cheesiness. Moreover, the film is not afraid of anything.
To accept Extraordinary Stories only as a deconstruction would be very unfair. The film has brilliant stories of its own to tell. It hits nearly every note you can think of. The drama is intriguing and the characters interesting and mysterious. Certain moments achieve an emotional resonance of impressive effect, such as a scene featuring a dying lion. Also, the film has a killer wit that never failed to make me smile, and I often found myself laughing out loud. Extraordinary Stories has a narrative force to be reckoned with, that constantly drives forward and always engages and entertains.
The film is broken into chapters, and certain segments seem have singular intents all of their own. One scene has one main character locked in a hotel room, watching people from his window, applying stories to them, not unlike how the narrator and we are applying stories to the characters in the movie. One especially memorable and completely unexpected tangent tells the story of a woman and her two suitors, which ends up being a wonderful summation of love and relationships. The way women in the film are portrayed is admirable. They are each noted for their intellect and personality rather than physical appearance. All of the many stories contained within the film are, indeed, extraordinary.
The three main stories of the film each have a nameless protagonist (they are referred to as X, Z and H). The narrator provides us with their thoughts and even their spoken words, as we never actually hear them speak. Llinas makes us feel as though we are characters in Extraordinary Stories. The film is as involving as any this year.
Llinas infuses the film with an incredible liveliness and sense of discovery. Such a feat is made all the more remarkable by the fact that this is his debut feature film (at the age of 34). I am in complete and utter awe. The film works as a brilliant deconstruction of storytelling, but also as brilliant storytelling. Some have claimed it to be literary, due to its narration, but such a remark is ridiculous; Extraordinary Stories bleeds cinema. It is a work of genius beyond measure.
posted by adam cook