In a normal metanarrative, naming your main characters “X, Y, and Z” would be an acceptable affectation. So, opting for trans-meta, Mariano Llinás settles on “X, Z, and H.” The three narrative strands that make up the Argentine director’s debut feature are, on their own, only mildly absurd: an innocent bystander witnesses a crime that then triggers his own complicity; a new job compels a man to sleuth around for information pertaining to the cryptic behavior of the (missing) person who formerly held the post; a photographer’s odd mission to document a series of riverside monuments leads to the discovery of a man bent on destroying said monuments. It’s a triple narrative helix with a distinctly literary feel: Argentina? Check. Circuitous conceits? Check. Getting that old-time Borges feeling? Absolutely.
Llinás spins his tale(s) with such dexterity that I’d like to say he uses flashbacks within dream sequences within flashbacks—but he does this so seamlessly, even while employing three semi-reliable third-person narrators, that it’s hard to know for sure. In the end, the art of his storytelling surpasses the stories themselves, but no matter. What makes this four-hour behemoth such an accomplishment is the sense that any sort of plot resolution would be not only unnecessary but an aesthetic cop-out. It’s not that you don’t want Extraordinary Stories to end; it’s that all the fun is in guessing where it could (impossibly) go next.
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