7.2 Three Sad Tigers (1969)
6.0 Que Hacer (1970)
6.2 The Penal Colony (1970)
7.1 Nobody Said Anything (1971)
6.0 The Tango of the Widower (1972)
6.0 The Expropriation (1972)
5.0 Little White Dove (1973)
5.0 El Realismo Socialista (1973)
6.0 Dialogues of Exiles (1974)
7.0 Dog Symposium (1977) [short]
6.9 The Suspended Vocation (1978)
7.5 Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1978)
7.1 The Territory (1981)
6.5 On Top of the Whale (1982)
7.3 The City of Pirates (1983)
5.0 Berenice (1983)
7.5 Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983)
6.0 Treasure Island (1985)
6.8 The Insomniac on the Bridge (1985)
6.0 Manoel's Destinies (1985)
6.7 Life is a Dream (1986)
5.0 Richard III (1986)
4.5 Mammame (1986)
5.5 Diet without Bread (1986)
5.5 The Blind Owl (1987)
6.9 The Golden Boat (1990)
7.3 Dark at Noon (1993)
7.6 Three Lives and Only One Death (1996)
7.3 Genealogies of a Crime (1997)
6.0 Shattered Image (1998)
6.2 Time Regained (1999)
7.0 Love Torn in a Dream (2000)
7.3 Comedy of Innocence (2000)
7.0 Love Torn in a Dream (2000)
5.8 A Savage Soul (2001)
7.5 That Day (2003)
6.8 A Place Among the Living (2003)
6.5 Days in the Country (2004)
6.7 The Lost Domain (2005)
5.8 Klimt (2006)
6.8 La Recta Provincia (2007)
5.0 Nucingen House (2008)
5.0 Blind Revenge (2010)
7.3 Mysteries of Lisbon (2010)
7.2 Night Across the Street (2012)
6.1 The Wandering Soap Opera (2019)
Raul Ruiz (Chile, 1941) toys with narrative stereotypes, subverting the
conventions of film-making, abhoring the story-line and indulging instead in
baroque, disjointed, ambiguous and multifaceted forms of storytelling.
The black-and-white Tres Tristes Tigres/ Three Sad Tigers (1969), shot with a hand-held camera and based on a theatrical play by Alejandro Sieveking, is a film that mixes themes and modes from neorealism, nouvelle vague, film noir, and psychological realism a` la John Cassavetes. Set among an alienated urban middle class (Antonioni's milieu), it follows two nomadic and verbose characters as they seem incapable of escaping their material and spiritual poverty.
At the end of 1970 the left-wing Unidad Popular led by Salvador Allende won Chile's elections, beginning the brief rule of the social president.
Ruiz had already steered towards social realism with Que Hacer (1970), born out of a collaboration with US documentary filmmaker Saul Landau.
La Colonia Penal/ The Penal Colony (1970) is a 75-minute adaptation of Franz Kafka's short story "In the Penal Colony" (1919), the first of a series of literary adaptations that included Berenice (1983) from Racine, and Richard III (1986) from Shakespeare . La Colonia Penal abandoned the neorealism of the previous films and adopted a chaotic and irrational narrative style more akin to surrealism. Kafka's universe is mapped onto the Latin American world of dictators and torturers. It is a satirical allegory set in an imaginary penal colony that has gained independence, an island that specializes in torture. She is given a tour of the torture chamber as if they were trying to impress her, as if the island-state wants her to publicize the national specialty, torture.
Nadie Dijo Nada/ Nobody Said Anything (1971), loosely adapted from Max Beerbohm's story "Enoch Soames" (1919), is a sort of follow-up to Tres Tristes Tigres/ Three Sad Tigers (1969), another mini-fresco of an alienated world, except that this time the analysis shifts from the lumperproletariat to the intellectuals. While they are disillusioned and largely anemic, they are also detached from the reality of their country, cultural polemists indifferent to the struggle of ordinary families. The other difference, of course, is that this film is shot in color and with a stable camera. The main difference, however, is that the last part of the film shifts gear, leaving behind the neorealist stance and soaring into a complex surrealist allegory: a poet who wants to write a novel about a poet who makes a deal with the devil to travel to the future... and realizes that he is the protagonist of that novel. Just like the protagonist of his novel, he is disappointed to find out that the future doesn't care about his work.
La Expropiacion/ The Expropriation (1972) is devoted to another case of detachment from reality, but this time the one who lives outside the real world is the bureaucrat in charge of implementing an agricultural reform. The government meant well when it decided to expropriate the land of a landowner and gift it to the peasants that work it, but the peasants are skeptical and suspicious, and refuse to accept the gift. The bureaucrat insist, thinking he is doing them a favor, but eventually they will kill him.
Palomita Blanca/ Little White Dove (1973) is an adaptation of Enrique Lafourcade's novel.
El Tango del Viudo y su Espejo Deformante/ The Tango of the Widower and its Distorting Mirror (1972), inspired by a Neruda poem, had been his first film, but completed only five years later and then lost until his wife Valeria Sarmiento restored it in 2020.
The four-hour El Realismo Socialista (1973), a semi-documentarian sociopolitical analysis a` la La Expropiacion/ The Expropriation , came out just before the coup that overthrew Chile's president Allende and began the long dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Ruiz moved to Spain, where he made Dialogos de Exilados/ Dialogues of Exiles (1974), an episodic and semi-documentarian film centered around the contradictions of political exiles. The narrative flow is frequently interrupted by interviews with exiles.
The short film Colloque de Chiens/ Dog Symposium (1977) is a 22-minute sequence of still images with an off-screen narrating voice, almost like someone telling a story while looking at a chronology of photographs... while dogs bark all the time.
La Vocation Suspendue/ The Suspended Vocation (1978), an adaptation of Pierre Klossowski's novel (1950), attacks the dogmas and bureaucracy of the Catholic Church.
If English is your first language and you could translate my old Italian text, please contact me.
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L'Hypothese Du Tableau Vole/ The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1978) e` un film filosofico, che ha un solo protagonista vivo in un mondo di personaggi finti, o una moltitudine di protagonisti che il personaggio deve comprendere.
O Territorio/ Territory (1981), Ruiz's first collaboration with British writer Gilbert Adair, is a metaphysical horror and one of his most straightforward narratives. It fails on the metaphysical level because there is little insight to be gained other than the evil nature of human beings. It succeeds as a thriller because it shows the parallel descent into madness as the protagonists descend into hunger, children not exempted. The film lacks all the subleties and ambiguities that are typical of Ruiz's cinema, but it reveals Ruiz's ability to manage a conventional storyline.
Time has gone by. They are back at Linda's place. Linda congratulates Ron and Barbara who have become celebrities after the novel "The Territory", based on their has become a best-seller. Linda wonders if Joe, the man who repeats every word, would be better off in a mental institution, but Barbara reassures Linda that she is capable of taking care of him, and of herself. Ron takes Joe to his room and shows him his old toys. Then Linda informs Barbara that the two have disappeared. Barbara simply states that she had expecting this to happen.
Het dak van de Walvis/ On Top of the Whale (1982) is one of his most abstract films, ostensibly about the last two survivors of an Indian tribe in Patagonia.
La Ville Des Pirates/ The City of Pirates (1983) is an enigmatic psychoanalytical horror movie that explores myth and fable; a narrative labyrinth, an incoherent stream of cinematic fragments, cast in a contradictory atmosphere of exotic expressionism; an insane blend of motives taken from Bunuel's L'Age d'Or (1930), Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1967), Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) and Psycho, as well as surrealist novels, with, additionally, twisted elements from "Cinderella" and "Peter Pan", and featuring a protagonist who is alternately reminiscent of Ophelia and Salome. The plot is a bit too arbistrary, or not arbitrary enough, especially towards the end when scenes become mere symbols, and symbols for something that nobody can really figure out. The film is shot partly in regular color, partly in black and white, and partly in a strong reddish color.
Les Trois Couronnes du Matelot/ Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983) is a delirious ghost story of sorts. The plot is an arbitrary sequence of stories with varying degrees of oneiric and surrealist overtones held together by the protagonist, a mysterious sailor who traveled around the world on a sort of cursed ship. It feels like the fantastic disjointed vision of a Ulysses under the influence of powerful hallucinogenics.
The story (now told in color) begins when the sailor was broke looking for a job on a ship in a port town. The Blindman (not blind at all) promised him a job on a ship. They get drunk together. Later the Blindman is assassinated in the street and dies pretending it's only red paint, not blood. A witness explains that he was killed because he promised a job on a ship just like he just did to the sailor. This witness, an old man, follows the sailor and starts telling him the story of his life. Once this old man disappears, the sailor boards the ship. He finds four people playing cards. They ask him to point a place on the map and he picks the right one. Therefore they hire him. The ship takes off.
The tale is interrupted by black and white scenes back to the night-club there the sailor, increasingly drunk, is telling his story.
Life on the ship is boring. A fellow sailor who hides salt is caught by inspector. He claims in vain that sailors would die without the salt. Everybody laughs at him. The captain even pulls a tooth from his mouth. The sailor, humiliated, jumps into the ocean... but the following day he's back on board playing his harmonica and claims to be someone else.
At a port the sailor walks into a brothel and picks the shiest whore, the only one who doesn't proposition to him. She thinks of herself as the Virgin Mary. Before leaving town, the sailor visits her one more time and brings her the money she needs in all the currencies of the world while outside the children are shouting the 365 names of the male organ and the more than 100 names of the female organ. After a long sail, they reach Singapore where he hangs out in the opium district and meets a child, whom a French expat describes as a 90-year old enlightened scholar, but is actually the sailor's own son.
Resuming the journey, the ship ran into a storm. The ship sank and the sailors went down with the ship without trying to survive. After a few days the sailor is hopeless... But here he interrupts the tale and moves back to an adventure he had in Morocco, where he was attacked by thieves and ended up in a jail without knowing how and why. The ship returned to South America, to his home town, where the sailor met a traveling salesman, Carlos, elegantly dressed in white, who took him to an underground tunnel via a hallway in which the law of gravity is reversed. His mother told him that, ashamed of him, his sister committed suicide. He spent his days and nights drinking, trying to forget. Eventually, he met a femme fatale, an exotic dancer named Mathilde, and fell madly in love with her. It didn't last long because one day he was attacked and a child saved hi, after which he resumed his journey. His therapy consisted in a hired "mom" to whose philosophical advises he got addicted. They had to chain him to the ship to resume the journey. In Africa the sailor met a religious longshoreman who taught him the real secret meaning of the Bible (the blacks, not the Jews, are the chosen people). The black guru asked me for three coins... the coins that he now wants from the student to pay back He borrowed money from the captain. He bought a bar and in a transcendent scene he met again all the characters of the previous stories, including the prostitute Maria, his son and the femme fatale Mathilda, and choise Mathilda over Maria. The captain, however, demands that he pays back his debt. The sailor gamgled gambled and won, but he still needs three coins... Now we are back to the (black and white) present in the night-club. It is almost sunrise as they walk out. The student pays the sailor (we are briefly back at the murder scene, the dead body of the antique dealer lying in front of the sailor) and then, feeling that the sailor is making fun of him, beats him with a baton. The sailor walks along the pier, and the student beats him again, and again, until the sailor stops crawling. The last scene is a scene (in color) of the ship at sea.
L'Ile au Tresor/ Treasure Island (1985) is a multilayered adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel. What is salvaged of the plot is... the plot, which is here reused to tell a different story, a story that has to do with a game that is based on that novel. Ruiz toys with narrative devices, as usual, but perhaps makes it unnecessarily convoluted and implausible without the usual surrealist tricks.
The wildly experimental and arbitrary L'Eveille du pont de l'Alma/ The Insomniac on the Bridge (1985) would be a philosophical parable in which two insomniacs have the power to dominate the lives of sleeping people if it didn't get lost in a labyrinth of bizarre dreams and supernatural events.
Les Destins de Manoel/ Manoel's Destinies (1985), originally a three part French television serial for children and later a four part Portuguese television serial, is his take on the fable and on the stereotypes created by centuries of fairy tales.
Memoire des Apparences/ Life is a Dream (1986) contains passages from Calderon's theatrical masterpiece but they are simply used for a completely different story, a political story about a revolutionary who uses Calderon's text to remember the names and addresses of fellow rebels. A decade later the same man invites them at a bizarre movie theater where the audience is watching Calderon's play.
Mammame (1986) documents a Jean-Claude Gallotta dance performance, Some of the dancers "talk" but generally in an unknown language. After the first collective scenes and "dialogues", there are a scene in which two dancers perform in a room while the others stare from the ceiling, and a scene and dialogue filmed facing a telephone on the floor; and after relatively straightforward dances there is another cryptic mime recitation by a couple against a windy landscape. The film ends with a lengthy scene shot outdoors on the coast.
The relatively brief, and mostly narrated, Regime sans Pain/ Diet without Bread (1986) is a mediocre dystopic sci-fi movie. Some of the scenes feel like videoclips for pop songs. Some detours (like the duel in the surgery room) might be meant as funny but they fall flat.
La Chouette Aveugle/ The Blind Owl (1987) is a loose adaptation of Sadegh Hedayat's 1937 novel. While the plot adheres to his surrealist vein, this time the stream of consciousness proceeds very slowly. The film within a film is neither particularly successful on its own nor poignantly interfering with the main story. To compound the problem, Ruiz chose to film in strong colors that mostly obliterate faces and objects. It is also one of his most verbose films.
The Golden Boat (1990), his first film made in the USA, returns to his experimental, surrealist mode with a chaotic flow of images; a protracted convoluted nonsense that mocks TV soap operas and horror movies. The actors employ a stiff Brechtian recitation. The camera often sits on the floor and the photography randomly suitches from black and white to color and back.
L'Oil qui Ment/ Dark at Noon (1993) is a surrealist fresco that seems to blend "Frankenstein", Bosch, Kafka and Dali, and, again, mainly focuses on visual magic.
Trois Vies & Une Seule Mort/ Three Lives and Only One Death (1996) weaves together four stories, three of which have a protagonist played by the same actor, the most complex puzzle of his career, a psychological thriller and perhaps a metaphor for the global deceit that rules the human world. The first three plots are linear and seem relatively simple, but it is already obvious that something is amiss. The fourth one brings them together in a whirlwind of madness. By the end, we are left with multiple possible interpretations. The most literal one is that the three lives (a traveling salesman, an anthropologist, a businessman and a child) were the product of a madman's split personality. The most allegorical is perhaps that it all happened in the mind of a child, a child that grew up and therefore "died" with all his imaginary characters. Visually, while rarely resorting to Ruiz's trademark surrealist techniques, this film is overwhelming. Just about every scene is a psychological masterpiece, saying more than it shows through the way it frames the characters.
Andre wakes up with a headache and tells his wife Maria that he is going to the pharmacy. Instead he stops at a bar to buy cigarettes and meets a funny Italian, Matteo (Mastroianni) who wants to celebrate his win at the horse races. Matteo insists in buying a drink to Andre and eventually offers him a lot of money for one hour of his time, confessing that he is lonely. Andre accepts and Matteo quickly reveals that he is his wife's first husband who disappeared 20 years earlier. Andre married his wife 4 years later and they adopted a child, while Matteo's daughter has long left the house. Matteo tells Andre that they would take a photo whenever something threatened their happiness. The rooms had more than 100 photos. One day Matteo found a giant apartment for a bargain price, but knew that his wife would not approve. He slept there by himself. He felt that the apartment was growing, and that tiny miniatures of people lived there, simulating the life he saw outside. Matteo claims that the following day he woke up and 20 years had gone by: those little elves had stolen 20 years of his life in one night: the elves ate his time. Matteo sees elves even in the bar where he is talking with Andre, and Andre, disturbed, would like to leave, but Matteo gives him more money to keep listening to him. Matteo tells him how the elves stole two months of his time in one second: he had plenty of time to see every detail of that one second. But we also see Matteo living in the apartment with a housekeeper whom he doesn't recognize: she scolds him because he refuses to see a doctor about his amnesia and reminds him that she has been working for him for 8 years. He invites Andre to check out the apartment and Andre cannot resist. Matteo shows him the apartment where he claims to have lived more than 20 years in a little over 4 days. Andre laughs when he finds out what the elves are: chicks, kept as pets. At this point Matteo makes an offer to Andre: Andre stays in this ghostly apartment, and Matteo returns to Maria. Andre realizes that Matteo is completely mad and tries to leave the apartment, but the door is locked and Matteo hits him with a hammer. Andre walks back with the hammer still stuck in his skull and calmly accepts the deal: Matteo reaussres him that the maid, Antonia, will take good care of him. Next we see Matteo arriving at Maria's place, dressed in a suit and tie. Maria doesn't seem too surprised. (For a while we see the scene duplicated in a mirror). She tells Matteo that she remarried and that she adopted a little girl, but that her husband left the day before (which, of course, Matteo already knows).
Suddenly we are back to the radio announcer who now begins the story of the 69-year-old unmarried anthropologist Georges, who leaves with his ill mother in a luxury apartment. That day his mother does not want him to leave the house, but he has to deliver an important lecture at the university. When he is already climbing the stairs to the lecture hall, a mysterious force dragged him outside. He spends the night in a cemetery, even after it starts raining. Georges becomes a bum, and is so successful at begging that one night the other beggars, jealous, ambush him (one of them rings a bell). He is saved by an Italian prostitute, Tania. She takes him to her apartment, where he criticizes one of the books she has, written by the hated Carlos Castaneda. Her husband phones her. She is worried about a man who stammers and asks Matteo to watch out for him. Matteo sleeps in a nearby square to be near her, so they can have intellectual conversations and dinners. One fatal day the stammerer appears. He is completely crazy. Matteo fails to stop him and Tania has to shoot him dead. Tania feels that Matteo betrayed her and he moves from her neighborhood to a bench under his mother's house, the house where he used to live. His mother watches him and realizes that he is making as much money as he was making as a university professor. Feeling that she is about to die, she writes him a letter asking him to visit her one last time. Georges does not do it and she dies four days later. This woke him up. He returned to his academic life. One day he read in the newspaper that Tania had been arrested for trying to kill her husband: she was a corporate manager forced into prostitution by a mad husband. He pays bail to get her out of jail. They meet again, this time dressed like professionals. He proposes to her and she gladly accepts, fascinated by a man who can sink so low. Their marriage lasts six months, during which both are busy with their professional lives. Then one day, as he is walking up the stairs of his university, Georges the professor again stops, turns, and (upon hearing the beggar's bell) walks to the cemetery, this time to visit his mother's grave. He becomes a beggar again, and his wife Tania is blackmailed again by the stammering psycho into prostituting herself, so that one night she finds him on a bench and gives him money. They recognize each other but he refuses to return to normal life, happy to remain a beggar for the rest of his life. He only asks her to stop reading Carlos Castaneda, but she declines.
The radio announcer starts reading the third story. Cecile and Martin are a young happily engaged couple who lives in a humble apartment. They are obviously poor as they play music in the street. They feel observer (Georges the beggar is sitting on a bench nearby), and then, out of the blue, they start receiving money in the mail. They make love all the time and don't realize that their neighbor, One day Martin is out looking for a job and (following a clue provided by the anonymous benefactor) posting notices around a neighborhood. The neighbor, Pyotr, shows Cecile that he can hear them all the time. She apologizes and lets him entertain her with some sweets (we see a serpent crawling in the foreground). When Martin returns home, Cecile confesses that she slept with Pyotr. Martin forgives her. A wealthy widow (played by the same actress who played Maria), who has seen his poster, hires Martin to redecorate her mansion. A mysterious man rings the bell and, after Martin opens the door, walks away without saying anything (played by the same actor who played Matteo and Georges). When he gets home, Martin has to confess to Cecile that he slept with the lonely widow. Meanwhile, Cecile received an anonymous phone call advising her to apply for a job. Her employer is noneless than Tania, who lives with her stammering psycho husband. Cecile can't quite type the business letters that Tania dictates to her but Cecile has been recommended to her by a close friend. Tania inquires whether she has a boyfriend and Tania's psycho husband tells Cecile to bring him over. The widow breaks up with Martin when he tells her that Cecile knows about their relationship. Tania and her husband try to seduce Cecile and Martin into a couple exchange but then they get bored by their naive attitude towards sex. They are unemployed again but their benefactor comes to their rescue again: They one day they are summoned by an attorney and told that an anonymous stranger has bequeathed them a huge mansion in the suburbs upon the only condition that they retain the old butler. This butler, the same man who was a beggar and rang the bell in previous scenes (Matteo/Georges), never speaks and only reacts when they ring a bell. She gets pregnant. One night Martin hears voices, and finds the butler talking with two strangers. They are arguing that the butler's plan is senseless, and calling him Luc. One of the two strangers sees Martin eavesdropping and hits him with a hammer. While Martin is lying unconscious, the three men keep arguing. One leaves (the one who looks like his business associate). Luc the butler kills the other one (the one who hit Martin). Martin survives but after that night they decide to move out. The butler tracks them down and offers them a deal: their newborn girl in exchange for a monthly stipend. Martin accepts, Cecile tries to jump from the window. Luc leaves the baby in front of Matteo's and Maria's house. (Hence this is the baby that Matteo's Maria adopted years after Matteo left her).
The fourth story begins without showing the radio announcer but hearing his voiceover narration. Luc is a wealthy businessman, married to a much younger woman, who one day receives an incredible message: his wife, his daughter and his sister are coming to visit him. Except that they don't exist, he invented them to have an excuse when he wanted to get away. He cryptically comments that the existence of much of reality depends on the non-existence of those three women. Back home he finds his wife, an opera singer, making love to a pianist. He hardly notices. Then he finds the name "Carlos Castaneda" handwritten on a piece of paper and this triggers a lot of mental associations, including the bell. He leaves the house and walks to Maria's place (who obviously is not a widow as she told Martin), pretending to be back from a business trip (Luc has mutated into Matteo?) Maria shows him that she has redecorated the house: it turns out she does it every time he goes away (and presumably every time she has an affair with the handyman she hires)(and she hired Martin after Martin got a clue from the anonymous benefactor, who might be Luc himself). Maria has been receiving anonymous letters according to which Luc has another wife.
At night Matteo (no longer Luc) has a nightmare: he is talking about his wife and about lecturing on anthropology. Maria wakes up. She shows him a photo of the woman with whom he is having an affair according to the anonymous letters. Matteo, who is actually sleepwalking even if his eyes are wide open, impersonates the beggar and asks her for a coin. When she finally gives him a coin, Matteo wakes up. Maria sees a man from the window and suspects that man is behind the anonymous letters: we see Tania's psycho husband contorting on a bench. Maria leaves the house and Matteo suddenly turns into Georges, confused to be in a strange apartment. The narrating voiceover summarizes the situation: Luc has been missing for 24 hours, Matteo has left for another trip, and Georges is walking to his mother's apartment which is now occupied by his mistress Tania to whom he says that he has given up begging. Tania, who has been receiving anonymous letters from her psycho husband, is happy to have him back. She rings a bell to call her maid... and Georges goes into a trance. He turns into the silent butler, cleaning a few objects in front of the mesmerized maid and of his worried Tania. Then the silent butler walks out straight to Martin's and Cecile's apartment. He cleans their apparent as a diligent butler would do. Cecile asks him if he is Carlos, the man who has been sending her anonymous letters. This triggers another mutation: the silent butler turns into Luc the businessman. His business associate finds him unconscious on the floor of his office and convinces him to see a psychiatrist, Luca. Luca does not let him talk: he only congratulates him for materializing three imaginary women. They found three women on the airplane who match Luc's description, even though they don't know each other. Luc tells his wife that he had a nightmare. Later a child named Carlos gives him a gun. Meanwhile, four women have been summoned to the same cafe by anonymous letters signed "Carlos": Cecile, Maria, Tania, and Luc's wife. Also present are the psycho husband Hans and Cecile's husband Martin. When Matteo/Georges/Luc walks in, Maria tells Cecile that the old man is her father. Georges walks past them as if he didn't see them. Cecile approaches him to apologize for having left him. He impersonates the beggar, then the butler, then pulls out the gun and starts shooting. The women also have funs and start shooting back. Then he returns the gun to the boy Carlos, who is waiting outside and whose last name is similar to Castaneda. The narrating voiceover tells us that Carlos, the traveling salesman Matteo, the anthropologist Georges, and the businessman Luc died on the same day: they had inhabited the same body.
Shattered Image (1998) is a postmodernist thriller in which the viewer is given two realities, each one being a dream in the other; but the realization is sloppy to say the least.
Possibly the most straightforward narrative of his career, Genealogies d'un Crime/ Genealogies of a Crime (1997) is a mix of film noir and psychological thriller. At its center is the kind of tormented psychotic that one would expect from Roman Polanski. Ruiz's trademark touches are still here: an elaborate system of layered flashbacks, and sensational visual detours (especially the living tableux behind the mirror). What is tamed here is his passion for showing how irrelevant a rational plot is. The film is also mocking both science (its pompous ambitions to understand the world that often end up in misunderstanding everything) and the state (its riduculous body of nonsensical laws and the paradoxical apparatus of highly-paid lawyers that they generate), something that Ruiz has often done, more or less explicitly. In this film there is also an emphasis on games: the switched-personality game, the living tableux, the old lady who painted her face on the paintings of prostitutes, and the Japanese board game that is shown repeatedly.
The sprawling period piece Le Temps Retrouve/ Time Regained (1999), adapted from Proust's final volume of "Remembrance of Things Past", is a chaotic star-studded pretext for the usual visual acrobatics and for his own rambling ruminations on memory. The labirynthine plot is a negligible distraction from the real attraction, which consists of fantastic surrealistic scenes. Even the acting, despite all the famous actors, leaves to be desired. In the end it is a failed experiment, one of Ruiz's least interesting films: those few scenes would have sufficed.
A distressed lover talks to Odette's stepdaughter Gilberte about something that happened when she was 12: we don't se him until the camera turns and then we realize it's Marcel as a young man. A child is staring at them.
Soon Gilberte is shown as a grown woman married to the officer Robert, who cheats on her with theater starlet Rachel and then cheats on this one with male pianist Charlie. Desperate to regain her husband, Gilberte dresses dressing in a shiny red dress exactly like Robert's mistress, only to break down in tears on his chest. Marcel has remained Gilberte's best friend and is the main witness of the couple's tragedy. Marcel remembers a dinner party and the camera shows his meditations by superimposing and distorting the images of the guests.
When World War I erupts, some of the men have to leave for the front, including Robert. Charlie the pianist enlists simply because he is bored. Odette shows up at a party of the gossiper after having avoided her parties for ages: she is still gorgeous. They now live with continuous curfews.
In one of the boldest scenes, a group of friends have gathered to watch a film of the war. Marcel is reading a letter from Gilberte about how she saved their property that was threatened by the war. He slowly levitates towards the screen while the image of him as a child appears on the other side of the screen, filming the action. On one side he is reading the letter as a young man, on the other he is filming the audience as a child, and both are superimposed to the film of the war.
Back to the present, Odette comes to visit the ailing writer.
During the bombing Marcel has no choice but to look for shelter in a brothel. He hears wailing and moaning, grabs a chair to peek inside a room, and sees a chained Charlus (John Malkovich) being whipped by a man. At the end of the orgy, Charlus complains with the owner of the gay brothel that the sadistic boy was too gentle, not brutal enough. All the male prostitutes of the brothel are asked to line up for Charlus to pick his next torturer.
Marcel is sent by Odette to visit Charlie, who is now in hiding because he deserted the army. He would be executed if arrested. Charlie is afraid of Charlus and Marcel tries in vain to make peace between them. When Robert dies heroically in a battle, Charlie defies the police and the family by showing up at the funeral.
The war is over. Marcel has spent months in a sanatorium and now is back. Things have changed dramatically: Charlus is disgraced, Charlie is highly respected, Gilberte is considered a tramp, Rachel is successful. He revisits all the survivors at a party (a very long scene) that mirrors the party of the beginning. Then he has a dialogue with himself as a child among the ruins of a bombed palace. And finally Marcel watches as an older Marcel descends the stairs towards the beach where Marcel the child is playing.
Comedie de l'innocence/ Comedy of Innocence (2000), based on Massimo Bontempelli's novel "Il Figlio Di Due Madri" (1929), and on "The Judgment Of Solomon", is a David Lynch-ian psychiatric thriller with an apparently linear (for Ruiz's standards) storyline but no clear solution. At least three of the characters (the child who switches identity, the woman who believes to be his biological mother and the woman whom he starts calling "mom) need a psychologist, but two of them could be presented to us via the sick mind of the third one. There is a good chance that it all happened in the protagonist's imagination, the imagination of an ill mother who feels guilty about not spending enough time with her son. After all, she even meets her son's imaginary friend... The child is constantly filming her mother, and he could represent the alternative filmmaker, Ruiz's alter-ego, producing a documentary of his life that mocks the storyline created by the filmmaker. And finally there is the woman who first seems to steal the child, then seems to be the sympathetic victim of the child's obsession, and finally something in between. It remains a mystery how the child and the other woman became friends if the nanny never left the child alone. It remains a mystery what the middle-aged neighbor means by her innuendos.
Combat d'Amour en Songe/ Love Torn in a Dream (2000) is another absurdist, chaotic, surrealistic flight of imagination a` la Dark at Noon but it actually has a rational plan, in fact a hyper-rational one. It begins as a combinatorial exercise of sorts, but the combination of narrative fragments is an excuse to travel in space and time with virtually no boundarias other than the law of Physics. The same actors, costumes, and themes are recycled across era. The "story" is driven by mirrors, dreams and a painting that contains an algorithm to find a treasure. It is also a self-tribute of sorts, as several stories are dead ringers for previous Ruiz films. What is missing are: a worthy ending that could justify the intricate plot, and the visual mastery that one usually associates with Ruiz's filmmaking.
The theologfy student is invited by the woman he sees in the mirror to follow her to her painting. The painting is missing a pearl that was stolen. A hand touches a Middle-eastern painting of two women and they come alive. Men dressed in black meet in the same church: one is wearing in his fingers the four rings that the other one is missing. Two ghosts of pirates need the painting to find their treasure. The thief tries to sell the treasure's map. All of this so far happened in a previous century. In contemporary time, a young man who just had a motorcycle accident finds a ring in the street. A friend shows him a blog on the web. Back to the past, nuns are walking down a spiral staircase. One of them appears to the theology student when he looks inside the mirror. She introduces herself as Lucrezia, all dressed in white like an angel, and tells him that the orgy doesn't start until midnight. She is a specialist in erotic pleasure. Her sister Laura is even more knowledgeable of sex. They can give him plenty of orgasms. She tempts him and hypnotizes him. The student meets his father, who is leaving on the treasure hunt with the two pirate ghosts. His father tells him their real names: the father is Salomon and the son Paul is actually David. The father disappears and one day a stranger tells the son that he knows where his father is and that the father is both dead and not. The student witnesses two men spitting on a dead man inside a church because the man died without returning their money.. The student gives the men all the money he has. Then he gets lost and he is helped by one of them. A thief knocks at the student's door looking for a hiding place, and then takes the mirror that the student does not want anymore. The thief shows the mirror to the owner of the Middle-eastern painting that is missing the pearl. The mirror shows the girl, Lucrezia, and the painting's owner understands that she is the pearl. Now we are told the story of the painting. Escaped convicts founded the order of the 22 rings as well as a off the coast of Chile. The republic got rich thanks to their pirate activities. One of them, Mariani, painted the painting even if he was going blind. But now four rings are missing, as the student's travel companion is telling him in a inn. A nun, impersonated by the same actress who plays Lucrezia, witnesses a miracle: the mirror that she was cleaning spat out 22 rings. This nun at the convent had stopped other nuns who were beating a man, and then had realized that her gold and diamond ring was missing. The nun's sister Laura lays down on the table the 22 rings and the cross: the painting's owner now has the power granted by those objects. The Lucrezia nun confesses to the student, who likes to fake being a priest, that she dreamed of an orgy with nuns during which they performed fellatio for seven men, and that she has a recurring dream of a young man. The student admits that he has the same dream. Fast forward to the contemporary age, the blogger reads an email on monitor and receives the visit of a fan who causes him to fall in a trance and see vision of Lucrezia in a garden asking him to make love to her sister while thinking of her (of Lucrezia). He wakes up with his travel companion in the previous century, ready to continue their journey. A third man tries to follow them but can't get through the glass screen of the camera... The treasure hunter gets the mirror from the thief: the mirror stole the painting which is the treasure map. The treasure hunter orders a potion made with three Catholic brains (minced and sun-dried), worms of a hanged man, innards of a virgin. all soaked in the urine of a newborn and horse's sperm, mixed with 12 pairs of eyes from adolescents, and fresh blood. Mariani had a son from a woman (the Laura actress), who was both his lover and his daughter, and completed the painting (in which the characters wear costumes from the future) that was meant as a map to find the treasure. Generations later his only descendant is a theology student. This student witnesses his ancestral double die. The owner of the painting, an old friend of his father, is willing to help the student, who is wanted by the authorities for killing someone. In fact, the student can enjoy a witness from the future, someone he killed in an Internet cafe, a fashion designer who was searching for a treasure. In contemporary time, two descendants of the story meet in a cafe and recognize each other as characters in ancient paintings. One tells the other another a tale: a well-dressed demon (played by the actor of the thief) sold him a new identity, he wanted his old identity back, but from that day on he was exchanging identify with anybody he stared at. He eventually met the demon again when they were both jailed. We are shown how the painter Mariani led the escape from the prison: he realized that the faces painted in the prison showed the way to escape from it. Fast forward to the present, in a disco where young people are dancing at the sound of loud thumping music Jessica (the same actress as Lucrezia) sits at the table where the modern Paul is sitting alone. Paul tells her about the website that foretells his life and Paul just read that he is going to kill a man named Marc. She smiles because she read on a similar blog that she is going to be killed by a man named Marc. Paul falls asleep at the disco and... wakes up in the past next to Lucrezia, the erotic nymph dressed in white. We also get the story of the painting told by the pirate Baniel: hated by the others, he was killed and his rotting body provided the raw material for Mariani's painting. Nevertheless Baniel remained capable of killing people and did so enthusiastically, and even hate his victims. We are told the story of aristocratic parents who ate their three sons in a formal dinner (the children resuscitated). The student and the man he killed in the future discuss Aristotle's syllogism (the one known after Socrates) and meet the ghost of Socrates. An old man appears and tells them the story of a midget captain whose boats kept sinking for as long as he named them "Socrates" (when he changed the name of his boat to "Aristotle", he died). But the old man admits that his story means nothing, and, in fact, he confused one story with another. Meanwhile, Socrates has been kidnapped by the mirror that his held by the well-dressed demon. The student and the man he killed in the future ask what this allegory means, but the old man claims that there is no allegory... Paul now remembers that he is looking for his father and he is standing in front of the blackboard where the film's director has written the algorithm to combine the nine stories. Lucrezia appears to warn him that the two ghost pirates are playing cards and the winner will have the right to kill him. The modern Paul wakes up in the disco. Jessica has forgotten to mention that her website foretells her future by 48 hours, whereas Paul's foretells the future by 24. Jessica's website has pictures of her funeral, after she is killed by Marc, a funeral that Paul himself attends. Jessica shows him an esoteric book published by the Oneiric Church and he starts reading about the ancient Paul, who was lost in the forest and met the erotic angel Lucrezia, who tells him of a dream in which she is a nun and she is killed, and then we move to the funeral of he nun, where all the nuns start beating teh coffin with a stick because a wound has appeared on all their foreheads. Lucrezia disappears and Paul is left alone in the forest. Paul meets one of the ghost pirates, the one who forced his father to leave on the quest for the treasure and who now wants to kill Paul, and then the demon/thief, and then the other ghost pirate. The demon offers him the treasure map, and Lucrezia's voice tells him to offer a coin, which the demon takes. He can't figure out the map, but they tell him to close his eyes and he travels back to the pirate's coast, littered with dead bodies. The other pirates accuse him of having caused their death by falling asleep. He screams Lucrezia's name and returns to the world of the demon and the ghost pirates. The demon sells him a lamp in exchange for an hourglass, which Paul uses to enter a cave where the owner of the painting buys it for a music box, which materializes a woman who starts dancing with him in a fabulous mansion. She tells him that she was married 27 times and shows him the 22 rings and the cross. Her husband arrives and Paul hides in the wardrobe. The husband shows her wife a present: the real treasure map. He's done it before many times and she's fed up with his story of pirates and treasures. The two ghost pirates appear and address the husband as Mariani. She now regrets having married a ghost. Mariani is dying. Fast forward to contemporary time, Paul and Jessica have been killed. Back to mansion, the wife and the ghost pirates start crying. Back to the republic of the pirates, the pirates have found a chest at the beach that contains no treasure, just treasure maps. Paul is looking for Lucrezia and is presented with two doors but refuses to pick one and instead walks straight into the camera... and emerges into an alley leading to a castle (the castle where this film has been made?)
The costume drama Les Ames Fortes/ A Savage Soul (2001) is an adaptation of Jean Giono's 1950 novel.
Une Place parmi les Vivants/ A Place Among the Living (2003) is a black comedy that sounds like a parody of film noir in which a serial killer tries to lure a writer of pulp fiction into writing the story of his crimes.
Ce Jour-La'/ That Day (2003) is a political apologue disguised as a macabre comedy. The protagonists are the social classes (the servant, the state, the capitalist). The capitalists are gone mad and are murdering each other. The servant is faithful and diligent, although involuntarily helps sustain capitalism, even as capitalism goes mad. The state is exploiting everybody to increase its own power, as indifferent to moral values as the capitalists. The police are ridiculed as ineffective idiots. And the joke is on the state, which, at the end, is arrested precisely by the idiots that it has put in charge of protecting the order.
A military convoy rolls into a town.
In the mental hospital, a patient is freed by his "friend", who tells him that the great day has come and the order came from God himself. All the doors of the hospital are open: the patient walks out undisturbed.
The guests leave Livia alone at the villa with the faithful servant.
The military convoy stops to let school children cross the street. The radio announces that a dangerous psychopath has escaped from the hospital. The chief of police is informed, but his assistant advises him to do nothing. They seem to assume that it is all part of a ploy for some larger purposes, and that somehow it has to do with Mr Harald being on the brink of bankruptcy.
Livia talks to her father on the phone. It turns out that her father is surrounded by Roland, Luc, Hubus and Bernardette. They are conspiring against her, who is the "heiress". Mr Harald then phones the faithful servant and finds an excuse to send him away. The servant is reluctant to leave Livia alone, but obeys when Mr Harald tells him that Luc will spend the day with her sister. Before leaving, the servant tells Livia to pray because the house is inhabited by the devil. Livia, alone, plays with the echoes. The madman knocks at the door. He shaves himself while he waits for Livia to come at the door. He has followed an address that was given to him by the man who freed him. He is the same madman who stared at her when she was sitting on the bench with the stranger. Suddenly, he starts chasing her around the house, determined to carry out God's order to kill her. Livia grabs a hammer and hits him. Luc enters the house with a gun and Livia, mistaking him for another madman, kills him with the hammer.
In the meantime, the chief of police and his helper are playing billiard and having lunch, determined not to hurry to investigate the escape. They see Hubus and Bernardette chat. The whole restaurant gossips. Mr Harald forbids a sauce called Salsox from that restaurant, which he owns. But every guest has his own bottle of Salsox that they carry with them.
Livia walks in the garden, happy, still clinging to her bloody hammer.
Someone approaches the fence of the garden: it is the strangers who met her the day before. She is happy to see him and begs him to climb the fence. Then they make love in the bushes. The psychopath has recovered and is looking for her. He grabs the hammer that she has dropped and kills the stranger. Then the madman and Livia sit on the steps, as if nothing happened between them. Hubus and Bernardette arrive. Hubus has a heart attack and dies. The madman chases Bernardette in the garden and eventually stabs her to death. Livia is singing, indifferent. Finally, the madman and the madwoman introduce each other properly. He is still holding the bloody knife, but she doesn't seem afraid anymore. She now believes he is an angel.
Her father is asking the police to check out his house, but the police chief and his assistance don't fall for it: they sense it is all a ploy, and refuse to be dragged into it. The owner of the restaurant (and pretty much any person in the restaurant) seems to know more and better than the police. Mr Harald also owns the asylum from which the madman escaped. Mr Harald is basically ruined, while his daughter is going to inherit a fortune from her mother. It turns out that Mr Harald gave his former wife the company Salsox, and Salsox became a colossal success while his other activities failed. Then his wife left him for another man, then this lover killed her. Now Livia, her sole heir, stands to inherit a fortune. if the daughter dies, then Luc inherits. If Luc also dies, the state takes everything.
Roland has now arrived to the house, holding a gun. He finds the dead bodies, that the madman has diligently moved into the house. Roland and the madman chase each other in the big villa, and eventually the madman prevails. Livia, still convinced that the madman is an angel sent by God, cooks a nice dinner for him. She sets the table for all the people in the house, alive and dead. Then they dance at the sound of the cellular phones that are ringing their tunes. Leone walks into the house, sees the dead people around the dining table, and runs out in the street chased by the madman. A van drives over her and kills her. The madman kills the driver and the passenger of the van, and then carries everybody into the house. Livia is now upset that the psychopath is killing so many people. The good news is that the psychopath is falling in love with Livia and doesn't want to kill her anymore, even though God ordered him so. Livia insinuates that maybe it was not God, it was the devil, who ordered him to kill her. They kiss.
The military vehicles are still on the move.
The servant is driving back and gives his brother (whose expensive car broke down) a ride back to town. His brother, who represents the state (and is probably the man who freed the psychopath and ordered him to kill Livia), visits Mr Harald. He tells him that both Livia and Luc are being taken care of (he also offers his condolences), and that the state is now the only heir to his wife's fortune. Mr Harald has to sign the papers: in return, all his debts will be paid by the state. He has no choice but to sign. The servant (the state's brother) calls: he has at the villa and has found a lot of dead bodies. The madman wants to kill him too, but Livia stops him, because the servant is "good" (unlike, evidently, the others). Livia convinces the madman to return to the asylum and promises to come and visit him. He really wanted to visit the zoo, but it turns out it is closed (a day of mourning for a lioness that died). He is a changed man, healed by love. After the madman departs, Mr Harald and the servant's brother arrive at the villa. They find all the dead bodies around the dining table. The brother, who represents the state, is shocked to find out that Livia is still alive. There is no inheritance if Livia is still alive. So he puts a gun in the hand of Mr Harald (Livia's own father). Now they are all sitting around the table in the same positions as during the birthday party, except that the father is sitting at his place and everybody else is dead except Livia. The servant's brother puts pressure on the father to kill his daughter, because this is in the supreme interest of the state (and, implicitly, of his own career as a state bureaucrat). Mr Harald lifts the gun but, instead, kills himself. The State grabs the gun and is ready to fire on Livia, but the servant stops him at gunpoint. His job is to protect her, and he is willing to kill his own brother, the State, in order to fulfill his duty. In vain does his brother remind him that the supreme duty is towards the State: the servant's duty is towards the girl, no matter than she is mad. At last, the police chief and his assistant arrive. They arrest the servant's brother, the State. He laughs at the idea of the police arresting him ("you don't know who I am"). And it is ironic that he gets arrested, since he has not killed anyone, after all. But, ironically, they do arrest the real culprit, because he is the one who engineered the madman's escape for the purpose of killing Livia, even though the plan failed so badly that Livia is the only one who was not killed. The joke is on the state.
Now the servant is alone with Livia, and Livia finally realizes that they wanted to kill her. She is shocked that God wanted her dead. The servant also explains that now she is rich: she owns the entire country. She is only interested in the fact that she also owns the asylum and the zoo (the place where the psychopath lives and the place that the psychopath wants to visit). Livia has, indeed, lived the best day of her life: she has fallen in love, and she has inherited what she needs to make her lover happy.
The military convoy continues its march passing the long line of school children.
Dias de Campo/ Days in the Country (2004), his first Chilean feature film in thirty years, is a relatively straightforward (by his standards) melodrama, that feels something like a transposition of a 19th century novel. Ruiz's surrealism surfaces only in the dialogues of the two old men. Nor do images interfere too much with the verbal narrative.
[The old Federico and his friend Luis hear the radio announce Federico's death]
A female pianist returns from her European tour, decided to settle in her homeland and teach music. At her welcome-back dinner Federico and his friends discuss the case of the killer: the killer's only friend was his dog, and he snapped when a man killed it. Then they discuss politics.
[The old/dead Federico and Luis are in a room whose furniture has been covered with sheets, as if it had long been unused. They comment that all the people of that party are dead except some of the servants]
When Paulita was dying of an infection, Federico asked the doctor to use antibiotics, but the doctor reminded him that they had not been invented yet!
Every now and then, without any rain, water drips from the ceiling. One day Federico tells Paulita that he is willing to accompany her to see her son, who has promised so many times to come and fetch her but has never done so. Paulita hesitates, happy but scared. An old man visits Federico, claiming to have known him since he was a baby, a man whom Federico has dreamed of. While writing his novel, Federico hears an echo behind him repeating his words. The servants of the house think that the trip to the northern city is a bad idea because the son may no longer live in that northern city. They seem to know something that Federico doesn't know but they are reluctant to tell all the truth. Federico has strong evidence that the son exists and lives in that city: the bimonthly letters that he personally reads. Paulita falls ill. Federico sees again the stranger, who warns him that he will not find her son, then pulls out a gun and shoots Federico. But it must be just the recurring dream. The doctor visits Paulita and tells Federico that she'll be dead soon.
[The aging/dead Federico and Luis argue about cultural and social movements of the past]
Federico discusses with a visiting cousin the case of Norita, the doctor's illegitimate daughter whose studies Federico supports.
[The aging/dead Federico and Luis discuss whether a watermelon is a watermelon].
Federico visits the delirious Paulita, who thinks that he is her son, and he goes along calling her "mama". She gives him the money that she secretely saved all her life for him. However, an old friend of Paulita tells Federico that the son disappeared long ago, and they don't even know whether he is alive: she was dictating to him her son's letters that later Federico would read to her. After Paulita dies, water starts dripping again in the living room and Federico cries alone. But the following day, as he is already preparing the funeral and the doctor is on his way to write the death certificate, Paulita wakes up perfectly fine. The doctor, an atheist, is puzzled by the miracle. Federico is already writing his novel, but also seems to be losing his mind. We hear the voiceover reading the novel, and, in the future, the people of the restaurant laugh hysterically. One day Federico visits a man in the north, Daniel, for business. While they are drinking, Daniel tells his story: of how he was abused by his parents, how he ran away and became a beggar, how a lady adopted him, how his mother wanted to find him in order to blackmail the lady, how he had to keep moving north to make sure his mother would not find him. Finally, Daniel returned to the lady's house, just in time to save her from ruin, a widow abandoned by her own children. Federico returns home and he is delivered a letter by Daniel: inside there is only half of a photo. It turns out that, when they were children, he and Paulita's son had split a picture of them together in order to recognize each other if they ever met again. Paulita has taken Federico's half and admits it. So it was Paulita's son, but his story was not hers.
[The aging/dead Federico reads a poem in the restaurant that nobody likes and then mentions that his novel includes all of these characters but different].
There are at least three layers of time in Le Domaine Perdu/ The Lost Domain (2005): the present, when a middle-aged man, Max, is telling stories about the legendary aviator Antoine to his grandchild while Pinochet is about to overthrow the democratic government of Chile; World War II, during which Max, as an adult, meets again his childhood hero Antoine and trains him to fly modern airplanes; and the distant past, when Max was a child in a country village and first met Antoine, a French aviator, forced to make an emergency landing. Back then they traveled together and discovered a place whose inhabitants are the characters of Henri Alain-Fournier's novel "Les Grand Meaulnes".
Klimt (2006) is a biopic.
The Righteous Province/ La Recta Provincia (2007) is a four-part television series. The film is a catalog of stories within stories within stories (not to mention songs) that are about demons. Most of the film sounds like a tribute to the folk repertory of Ruiz's homeland (and to its vast empty landscapes), besides yet another virtuoso demonstration of Ruiz's nested storytelling techniques. But overall it sounds amateurish compared with his best films; which is too bad because a glorious ending makes it a powerful parable of human nature, a negative parable, a parable of evil triumphing despite good people's best intentions. Ruiz should have pruned away about half of it.
Mother and son begin a pilgrimage in the barren "Righteous Province" to find and give proper burial to the rest of the unburied bones. A horseman warns her against the many demons who haunt that region. Their first encounter is with a professional widow who causes her husbands to die, sometimes many per week. She has two children with whom she plays in a room that has been turned into a museum of her dead husbands. She's also a cannibal: she has cooks who boil her husbands alive. She summons a blindfolded oracle who foretells Rosalba that she will walk for 13 days and will encounter but survive many dangers . Mother and son walk for days in a wasteland before they finally encounter someone: he is an ethnographer looking for authentic folk stories. Paulino tells him one but then admits that he read it in a magazine. Then they are met by female demon Belisaria, who knows that they are looking for unburied bones and who offers to escort them in that land of demons. The story of Belisaria is not told by herself but by the devil Aliro in Rosalba's home. (This violates logic, unless he told them this story before they set out on their pilgrimage). The story of Belisaria begins in the Middle Ages in France with a priest who tells Belisaria a story about Saint German (another man with horns on his head) in which story the saint tells "Lobo" ("Wolf"), who is looking for the ultimate sin, the story of an infinitely evil man for whom a special hell is being built. A friend of this evil man happens to see the Virgin Mary, who promises help. (By now we are in a story narrated by German who is in a story narrated by a priest who is in a story narrated by Belisaria who is in a story narrated by Aliro). The Virgin Mary visits the evil one, and manages to get one tear of remorse from him, but that is not enough to save his soul. She tells the evil one's friend that the only way to save this evil soul is to collect a barrel of tears, and they start collecing tears from the whole village, a project that continues generation after generation. Rosalba and Paulino are still walking, accompanied by Belisaria. Paulino falls asleep and meets a beautiful woman who lives on a tree, and she tells him that she doesn't exist. She tries in vain to strike a conversation with him: he always thinks of his mother. Then he starts telling her the story of how he met a dying man, the "Wolf" ("Lobo"), who wanted Paulino to finish him with a bullet. They became good friends and the Lobo promised to come back after having killed a few friends, and he did at midnight, howling like a wolf. Belisaria uses magic drops made only in hell to resuscitate Paulino who has been dead all the time. He tells them of the dream and the woman of the dream appears in front of them bringing a ten-year-old child with her, claiming that she got pregnant in Paulino's dream. Rosalba, incredulous, ignores her. The trio (Rosalba, Paulino and Belisaria) keep walking in the desert until they meet a skull lying on a piece of wood. The skull tells them the funny story of Juan Ultimo, the only Juan and Juana of the family who has not committed suicide, haunted by a grandfather who tries to shame him into killing himself. Juan Ultimo tells his grandfather the improbable story of an evening spent with a skull carried by a man wrapped in a black dress, with Rosalba and Paulino as spectators sitting in a corner of the room. The grandfather appears to shame him as usual, and then the ethnographer saves Juan because he knows the ancient song that talks about his fate. This ends the story of the skull, told to Rosalba, Paulino and Belisaria (a story in which there is a story in which Rosalba and Paulino are featured). Suddenly the trio is walking on a road used by motor vehicles in a foresty landscape coasting a lake. A young woman offers them a special kind of water. The demon warns them against drinking it, but they stilll do. The young woman starts laughing and disappears, and so does Belisaria. Rosalba and Paulino don't even recognize each other and don't remember where they are going. A professional walker (there are many running around) reminds them that they are those who are looking for bones, but he doesn't know their names. He calls a female oracle who replies to questions like a computer, and thus they learn that they are mother and son, looking for bones, and the oracle adds that Paulino made a pact with the devil Aliro to become intelligent. The professional walker tells them a story of philosophers named Eraclitus and Democritus. They meet the Virgin Mary, who tells them how she saved an unfaithful wife from the wrath of her husband. Then they meet a radio from which a voice recognizes and addresses Rosalba, and then begins reciting a poem that an airplane broadcasts over the entire region. More apparitions follow rapidly, including the fiance who stood her up: She tells him that she doesn't love him anymore and he commits suicide (apparently for the second time). They are lost and Jesus in person saves them. They wake up next to the Virgin Mary: the rapidfire visions culminating with Jesus were just a dream. But their suitcase is now full of bornes: they got all the bones of the skeleton. The Virgin Mary, however, tells them one final story, that she heard from her son Jesus, a parable. The parable is the very story of Rosalba and Paulino... how they set out to find the rest of the skeleton and how they succeeded and reassembled the skeleton only to resuscitate the cadaver of Lobo, the ferocious murderer. Lobo thanks them but he is determined to carry out his revenge against the 30 men who betrayed him, i.e. to exterminate 30 families. The good Rosalba is mortified that all her efforts ended up causing so much evil. But this is just the parable that the Virgin Mary was telling them. Now they understand the meaning of it, they throw away the suitcase with the bones and start walking back to the village. Rosalba summarizes the parable as: what we saw didn't happen and, if it did happen, we don't remember it. As the titles scroll on the screen, we see them walking away... and the professional walker stealing their suitcase (which contains the bones of Lobo).
La Maison Nucingen/ Nucingen House (2008) is a horror tale adapted from Balzac, a very minor film that sounds mostly like a parody of the stereotypes of ghost stories.
A Closed Book/ Blind Revenge (2010) is a mediocre adaptation of Gilbert Adair's mediocre 1999 novel.
The sprawling costume drama
Misterios de Lisboa/ Mysteries of Lisbon (2010), an adaptation of
Camilo Castelo-Branco's historical novel (1854), is a baroque hybrid of
popular melodramas and Brecht-ian theater.
As usual, the story is impeccably delivered in a visually
stunning style, photographed by Andre Szankowski, evoking
Visconti's austere and sumptuous elegance and Greenaway's baroque
What belongs uniquely to Ruiz are some odd tricks of the camera that
(intentionally) distract from following the action, a little bit like
Brecht's estrangement techniques: for example, the camera glides
along the ceiling, or shows the action through a window.
The priest takes Joao to the adobe of the counts, where the countess catches a glimpse of him. The count comes out and shouts at them. The priest admits that she is Joao's mother. The count, however, is not his father. His father is dead. The countess sends a trusted servant to deliver a letter. The servant, Bernardo, cannot resist to meet the boy, and tells him that his mother has been abused by her husband. He had locked her in her room for eight years. The priest is the only one who knows what happened, and he simply says that the count punished her because of him, Joao. The count is even cheating on her with a maid, Eugenia, who is de facto the real landlady.
Meanwhile, Portugal is torn by a civil war between the loyalists of the king and the liberals of Don Pedro, who are supported by the British. There are riots and Joao sees three hanged people. One day the king calls the nobles to join in the war and the count has to leave. The countess takes advantage of her temporary freedom and asks the priest to bring the boy to her mansion. The intermediary is always the trusted servant, who is moved to tears by the woman's suffering. The mother moved in with the son at the orphanage, and the two live their first happy days together. She is alerted by the loyal Bernardo, who hs been fired by the evil count, but the priest advises her to just hide with the boy.
The priest finally tells Joao who his father is. It's a flashback in which his father, Don Pedro, then a feverish young man, tells the priest (in a flashback within the flashback) how he fell in love with the countess, then the daughter of a masquis, but was rejected by her father on financial grounds. Nonetheless Pedro and Angela kept seeing each other whenever her father left the house. Eventually, her father hired a bandit, Heliodoro oe "knife-Eater", who shot the young man while he was leaving the premises. That's when he ended feverish in the priest's office. Meanwhile, Angela had got pregnant. Angela was sent to a convent and a marriage was arranged with the evil count. But first the marquis hired Knife-Eater to kill the baby as soon as he was born. A drunk Knife Eater told the whole story to his friend, a gypsy who resembles Father Dinis, who showed up the following day with a bag of gold to buy the bastard, who was named Pedro.
Back to the present, the aristocratic society gossips about the story of the runaway Angela, who is now accused of adultery. A newcomer in their circle is a handsome scar-faced man, Alberto, who is rumored to be a bastard son of the king. He became immensely rich as a slave trader and a pirate. He resembles "Knife-Eater" in aristocratic clothes. He is arrogant and disrespectful. He exposes the hipocrisy of the aristocratic ladies who are unfaithful to their husbands while mocking the poor Angela. He insults the wife of the powerful Don Martinho and then refuses the duel, proving that he has no honor.
The priest visits the count, who came back from the war very ill. He confronts the count about the countess. The count tells the story from his point of view, as a victim of the scheming of Angela's father. The count feels he was a puppet in the theater of the marquis. A flashback shows how the marquis managed to get him to marry a reluctant Angela. The priest (then a layman called Sebastiao) in vain warned him against "buying" the unhappy girl from her father. At the end of their conversation the dying count accepts to sign a statement confessing his torture of the poor woman and admitting that she never committed adultery. This scene is captured from above by the camera gliding along the ceiling from the bed to the witnesses, as if the viewer was God.
The priest then relates the good news to the countess and asks the countess to forgive the count. She agrees. The scene is shown throgh the window as Joao/Pedro eavesdrops on them. Joao/Pedro is angry that his mother accepts to forgive her husband and suddenly he's standing in front of the theater and knocking down one of the puppets. The count dies before the countess can arrive and forgive him. He leaves her his sole heir, but she refuses the inheritance. Unfortunately, that means that she will be penniless until the day that Joao starts working, and thefore has to withdraw to a convent.
Meanwhile, the mysterious Alberto is listening to a summary of his "business" operations. He has pirates working worldwide from the Baltics to Peru. The priest visits him, curious to find out why Alberto was defending the countess' honor at the party. Alberto immediately recognizes him as the gypsy who bought the bastard's life. He used to be known as "Knife Eater". That money changed his life and transformed him into a much smarter criminal. Grateful, Alberto decides to return the sum of money to Dinis so it can be used to raise Joao/Pedro.
The count's very old confessor, Alvaro, has another mystery to unveil. The scion of a wealthy family, the young Alvaro inherited a fortune when his father died and became a playboy, a ladykiller. One day he was befriended by a noble man who shared a common enemy with him (the man who caused the death of his father). This noble man happened to be married to a gorgeous woman, Silvina, whose beauty had already bewitched the young playboy. They became lovers during a lengthy absence of the husband. The maid saw them and told her master. The wife was summoned by her husband, but instead the lovers decided to flee the country. She got pregnant, but she died giving birth. The camera moves from the room where the doctor breaks the news to Alvaro to the room where the cradle is and to the room where the woman lies dead. Alvaro, the father of the bastard, heartbroken, turned to religion.
He gave the baby to a friend who gave it to someone else. Dinis understands that he is that child: Alvaro is his father. Alvaro recognizes his son the moment he saw him in the count's room (wildly implausible that anyone could identify a middle-aged man as a newborn of 54 years earlier).
Back to Joao's narrative in first person, Joao/Pedro enters a secret room of the orphanage. The priest is right behind him and, after reproaching him for breaking the rule, tells him that the room contains the costumes of his past selves (like the gypsy and Sebastiao) as well as the skull of his mother. After the child runs out, the camera takes a 360-degree tour of the room, showing one costume at a time. Dinis decides that the time has come for Joao/Pedro to enroll in a college in France. Before he boards the coach, a mysterious stranger comes, stares at him, and leaves without saying a word.
Alberto marries Eugenia, the former lover of the count. At the opera someone recognizes him as the man who got in trouble with another guest of the party, the beautiful and ghostly French duchess Elisa. Alberto had to leave France because of her. She follows Alberto and Eugenia the whole night and eventually drops a letter for Alberto. Alberto tears it up, and we watch the scene from the perspective of the letter, from the floor. Alberto meets Eugenia, while her maid eavesdrops, and tells her to leave him alone and return to France. They speak in French. Instead Elisa visits Eugenia while Alberto is away. Eugenia speaks in French too. Elisa simply pities Eugenia and leaves.
Father Dinis is also related to this Elisa (small world, eh?) and speaks French too. It turns out that her grandfather adopted him in France, and the young Sebastiao (now Dinis) became like a brother to his son Benoit. Enrolled in the army, during the revolution they saved an colonel from certain death. This colonel became their main rival for the love of Blanche, but he had to leave for the war. Under pressure from her family and even from the emperor, Blanche married Benoit and gave birth to Elisa and her twin brother. But the colonel returned from the war, Blanche started an affair with him, Benoit killed Blanche and set fire to their house, Sebastiao/Dinis pulled out Blanche's lifeless body from the fire.
Dinis just finished the story that Alberto shows up, determined to strangle Elisa. Dinis stops him by calling him with his old nickname, Knife Eater.
Back in France, she is introduced to a Portuguese gentleman, Pedro, formerly known as Joao (really small world, eh?). Pedro is told by a friend that she lives like a recluse in her castle and dresses in black since the day that a stranger (presumably Alberto) killed her twin brother in a duel. She was left a poor widow shortly after her marriage and this stranger was briefly her lover. Pedro falls in love with the melancholic widow. Pedro does not know that he is in France thanks to the money gifted by Alberto to Dinis. Pedro took his theater diorama to France with him and talks to it trying to get inspiration for the letter he is writing to Elisa. Elisa rejects him as too young for her (and she also has something going with Pedro's friend) but then invites him to visit her at her castle. She tells him that she only lives to take her revenge. The naive and idealistic Pedro decides that the only way to make her happy is to kill this Alberto. Pedro returns to Portugal and confronts Alberto about the murder of Elisa's brother nine years earlier. The camera walks around the room as if it ispacing and meditating while staring at the encounter. Pedro challenges him to a duel, and this time Alberto accepts. They meet in the woods with witnesses and all. But Alberto is just toying with Pedro/Joao's pride. After a bit of fencing, Alberto tells the boy that he is his benefactor and leaves. Pedro/Joao feels humiliated, and imagines shooting himself. Later Alberto and the boy meet in friendly terms and Alberto recounts his version of the story: how Elisa was a highly desired widow who had already caused six duels. Alberto bought a night of sex with her for a huge sum, which she took. Alberto saw it as a game, but she became obsessed with it. She sent her brother to take her revenge and Alberto killed him while struggling to take the gun from him. Pedro/Joao weeps. Not exactly the story he expected.
Angela, Pedro/Joao's mother dies in a cholera epidemic and is buried in a common grave. Pedro/Joao meets the marquis, her father and his grandfather, who is now a beggar after a failed suicide attempt that left him blind and demented.
Pedro/Joao meets Elisa who holds against him that Alberto is still alive and makes fun of his lack of courage. Pedro decides to leave for Brazil.
Pedro/Joao wanders for many years. Eventually, an old man, he takes a room in an inn and opens the theater in the usual position, as if he had been recreating his old room at the orphanage all his life. He then sits and stares at the theater. He gets in bed and starts reminescing about his childhood at the orphanage, where everybody had a last name except him. Now there's a black man sitting in front of him writing down what Pedro/Joao is dictating, the story that became this film.
Father Dinis enters his room. Pedro/Joao is lying in his bed. The nun says that the boy is too cold. They call the doctor urgently. We are back at the epileptic fit of the beginning. The door of the room closes by itself, perhaps an allegory for death. Then we see the scene in which his mother and the priest approach his bed but this time we see it from the perspective of a dying man in his death bed: looking up from the bed and the images are distorted, fading into pure white. Perhaps the whole film has just been a nightmare of his coma.
His last film, La Noche de Enfrente/ Night Across the Street (2012), based on two stories by Hernan del Solar, is an austere meditation on the passing of time in which past and present become one as senility and death are approaching. Ruiz, who had adapted Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past", turns it upside down: instead of a rational sequence of recollections, we get a rambling free-form philosophical (and rather hermetic) meditation on the passage of time. Throughout the film we keep hearing the clock ticking, and every now and then the alarm clock goes off, a reminder that death day is approaching. He wanders inside his memories, constructing all sorts of symbols and allegories, while death encroaches on him. He is waiting for a killer named Rhododendron, which was his own nickname as a child: he is the killer who will kill him. The film is a chaotic mixture of Proust, Welles ("Citizen Kane"), Beckett ("Waiting for Godot"), Fellini ("Amarcord") and Dali ("The Persistence of Memory"). The result is one of the greatest surrealist films of all times; and perhaps the most desperate of all.
Ruiz had already died in 2011.
The unfinished The Wandering Soap Opera (2019) was completed by Valeria Sarmiento.