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.
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.
The middle-aged moustached Tito is in town with his younger sister Amanda
(who candidly confesses that she was famed as "the Queen of the Strippers")
to deliver some important documents to his boss Rudi, who left him a note
that he needs them urgently. They hang out with their new friend Lucho.
The landlady's daughter is upset with Rudi that his rent
cheque has bounced, and it is not the first time.
However, Tito doesn't seem to be in a hurry to deliver the documents.
He, his sister and Lucho have dinner in a restaurant and Lucho has an argument with a group
of men who are singing patriotic songs.
Meanwhile, Rudi is talking with a businessman about a lucrative deal, whose
details are in the documents that Tito is late delivering.
Tito and his sister are watching a striptease in another club and commenting
that the stripper is too fat, while Rudi is entertaining his important guest
until he falls asleep. Tito, Lucho and his sister return home early in the
morning after a night of drinking. When the cleaning lady finally wakes them
up, they have a farewell lunch for Lucho who, drunk, delivers his farewell
speech. At last, Tito delivers the papers to Rudi, who is clearly upset.
Rudi delivers the papers to the landlady's daughter and then makes love to her.
Then he and his sister take Lucho, still drunk, to a bus station, where
Lucho's coworker realizes that they have taken all his money.
Tito takes his sister to Rudi's office, where she pretends to be an actress
and to be engaged with a Roberto who is out of town. Then Tito leaves them
alone so they can make love. Tito spends the day in a cafe where he has
a political argument and gets punched in the nose. When he walks into
Rudi's office, his male secretary tells him that he is fired.
He is drunk anyway, and collapses on the floor of the bus that he takes
Then Tito meets his sister who tells him how much Rudi paid her for sex.
Tito cries and admits that he has been fired.
Amanda promises to intereced for him with Rudi.
But later Rudi calls extremely upset that he introduced him to Amanda.
Rudi insults him repeatedly and tells him to get out of town.
Tito heads to Rudi's apartment, where his sister is, and beats up Rudi,
who proves to be a coward. Then they drag him downstairs and take him in
a car to the ouskirts of town, where they dump him unconscious.
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,
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
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.
A female journalist arrives at the island of Captiva.
She specializes in third-world reports has arrived to write a reportage on
While she is waiting at the airport,
she talks about a dream
she had that featured famous politicians. Then she is escorted by two soldiers
to a meeting with interim president Eanes, who wears impenetrable sunflasses.
She interviews him in a humble room, sitting on simple chairs.
The local people speak their own language, only vaguely related to Spanish.
Her voiceover informs us that this island of Ecuador has alternated for a
century between being a penal colony and being independent, most recently in 1972.
A man comes to visit her at the hotel with a welcome gift for her:
his own poems, but he is arrested by two soldiers and taken away.
The interview with the president resumes. She is planning to stay one week.
He boasts that he is a good singer and she invites him to sing something typical of the island.
He denies rumors of widespread torture.
Then intones other songs accompanied by several soldiers.
Then he lies down on the floor to take a nap.
All the while a man is being guarded in front of them by soldiers.
And suddenly this man, who is said to be condemned to die, attacks the
journalist and the soldiers have to restrain him.
Then he crawls next to the president and they hum a song together.
A group sings a serenade under her window.
The following day the soldiers escort her through the torture chambers
where she witnesses the tortures and hears the screams.
The president in person tortures a man. When a prisoner rebels and tries to kill him, the soldiers beat the man viciously.
The president asks the journalist whether she's impressed.
She reads the convoluted fairy tale of a man who morphed into a little girl and married another man, and the president claps.
The president pulls out a Peruvian radio that, when beaten, screams like a tortured prisoner.
She then interviews a writer about a series of strange coincidences:
tragedies that happened elsewhere repeated themselves in Captiva a few months
He tells her that he stopped writing his novel to come to Captiva.
She points out that a chapter in his novel describes a torture chamber identical to the one she just visited.
At the hotel she realizes that they have seized all her equipment.
She meets the interim president again.
She tries to leave but she is detained. The interim president shows her
the texts they found in her luggage and calls it "lies".
She is taken away by a soldier but then the interim president starts sobbing.
Then suddenly he is restrained by his own soldiers as he tries to shoot himself.
He drinks with his soldiers but one rolls to the floor agonizing.
The president pretends to challenge the other soldiers with a sword but then
they join together to sing a sort of hymn.
After a speech about freedom and independence, the president is shot dead.
He finishes his drink before lying down dead on the floor.
The populace lines up to pay tribute.
The journalist says goodbye to everybody and leaves.
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.
A group of intellectual friends meet at a restaurant and cabaret.
One of them is a poet, Braulio, who is looking for money to finance the publication of
his poems. Another one just got some money and pays for everybody.
The Argentinian singer on stage begins a satirical song that makes fun of presumptuous
intellectuals and they leave the place, a bit drunk.
The same singer who made fun of their attitude walks to their place to buy
the song written by a young aspiring musician.
A woman, Lleida, has written a short story, but, mostly, is angry at the
poet. They return to the cabaret, this time the woman too.
One has received a note from his wife Sara who seems ready to come back to him.
Another one carries a gun but has removed the bullets because he already tried
to commit suicide twice. He sings a song, then gets into a bloody fight with
two cops, while the others totally ignore the commotion. Lleida dances with
the handsome singer who claims to be the devil. One of them takes them home,
where his wife and his children are asleep. They are half drunk and mess up
the place, causing an argument between wife and husband before everybody
leaves again (although one, the ever drunk Tomas, tries to hide inside a kitchen cabinet).
They head to another one's house, where his wife is waiting for him: she has
won a scholarship and is about to move to the USA, and they have to sign papers
for the attorney (presumably for the divorce).
Every now and then they lie down on the floor or crash on a couch, but nobody
really sleeps. And, still, in the evening the poet is capable of giving a
lecture (to a very small audience).
The handsome Argentinian singer even organizes a celebration for the poet's birthday
at the cabaret. But the poet is soon drunk again at someone's apartment,
and the singer comes to arrest him because the ungrateful has stolen his
expensive watch. The other three are not interested because they are trying to
write an epistolar novel, and in the process they mess up the apartment's
floor and set fire to a chair. The trio continues the discussion over lunch
and then at the beach, where the singer shows up with horses and girls.
Two of the three,
Germano and Tomas,
take off with him and leave alone the one who needs to
submit the novel to a literary contest. This one, Ubaldo, goes to sleep.
Before falling asleep he tells his woman that the novel is about a poet
similar to Braulio who makes a deal with the devil to travel to the future
because he wants to find out what future generations will think of his poems,
and is disappointed to find out that future generations have never heard of him.
Then Ubaldo finds himself in another cabaret in the company of the singer,
the self-appointed devil, who lures him into a spiritual experiment.
Ubaldo accepts because he has lost his friends, who have all submitted
to the same experiment.
Ubaldo wakes up from the experiment being dragged on the stage of the cabaret
and being introduced as a foreign guest. He realizes that something is very
wrong, that they are speaking a funny language, and wants to leave.
They show him the exit through the roof. He ends up in a restaurant where
he is welcome by the same man who had paid in the first restaurant scene.
The singer joins them and, grabbing Ubaldo by the hair, reminds him of the
contract that he signed. Now we learn that Ubaldo is a poet... just like the
character in his novel... The devil and the poet have dinner in a fancy
restaurant, then the poet falls asleep... and wakes up in a hospital,
surrounded by all of his friends. They are in a rehabilitation clinic for
alcoholics. When the singer/devil shows up with gifts, they beat him up,
but he retaliates by setting fire to the whole place.
The whole country stops to pay tribute to the victims of the fire
while the funeral is broadcasted live.
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.
Clemente Iriarte is a grumpy middle-age man who lives with his nephew Joaquin.
A handyman called Franco is doing some noisy work upstairs.
Clemente visits his friend Silva who calls him professor and introduces him to
a widow who calls herself Lola.
Alone, Clemente talks about his wife Maria's death. He circles a newspaper
article titled "the end of the world in smoke signals".
Clemente calls Silva because he can't sleep:
every night he is hainted by the same dream, the ghost of his wife.
His nephew reads the book that Clemente himself wrote, a memoir in which he
talks of his 28 years of marriage.
Clemente meets Lola, who would like to hear about his dead wife.
At night again Clemente wakes up and yells at his wife's ghost.
We see a wig and feet moving under his bed, and then Maria hiding under the sheets.
Clemente gets up and she teases him from behind.
Clemente visits Silva again and shows him
old photographs and gifts some of them to him.
When he leaves, Clemente's wife Ana remarks that
Clemente is ill and they should do something about it.
They dine with Lola.
Meanwhile Clemente can't sleep because his nephew is playing with toys.
His nephew plays with the wig that Clemente sees moving.
Clemente has a nightmare in which
Joaquin pulls the wig out of Clemente's belly like a newborn baby.
Silva and Ana visit Clemente. While they wait for Clemente, they ask Joaquin
how Clemente is doing, implying that he is ill. Joaquin dances with Ana.
Silva and Ana say "hi" to Clemente and then they walk out with Joaquin.
Alone at home, Clemente talks to his wife's ghost about a hotel that collapsed in an earthquake.
When he grabs her, he realizes that he is holding only a wig.
He writes a number of last letters, points a gun to his head, and shoots himself.
We then see Silva, Ana and Joaquin at his funeral.
They take a picture of the coffin as it is pushed inside a niche of the cemetery.
Then the film rewinds. We see all the scenes again in reverse order. We also see
a man wearing sunglasses and grinning.
We see Clemente with the gun and the letters on the table, we see him
play with the wig and the wig turning again into the ghost, we see his
nephew dancing with Silva's wife, we see the
scene of Clemente giving birth to the wig, we see
his friends Silva, Ana and Lola discussing him,
we see the scene of Clemente giving Silva the photos, and so on all the
way to the first scene.
Every now and then Clemente's ghost whispers. Some of the
scenes are shown upside down.
At the end Clemente comments on his wife's suicide. He
drinks coffee in front of her dead body in the bathroom (a scene that we glimpse at the very beginning) and hints that he killed her.
The man with sunglasses seem to jump and fly.
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
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.
Political exiles from Chile live in Paris after the right-wing coup of Pinochet.
Luis asks for help from a friend of his father.
Several men and women sleep in a small room without even undressing.
They don't have an occupation so they spend the day discussing all sorts of
practical subjects, including the difference between French and Chilean cuisine.
They are hosted by a political organization, but the hosts are not very
friendly: a French woman comes to complain, and speaks quickly in French without
letting anyone translate what she is saying (she's complaining that they
are noisy and filthy).
One of the exiles is on a hunger strike. He is transported on a stretcher while
he reads the newspaper and hauled into the apartment via a window that faces
the street. The doctor who accompanies him tells the others that his conditions
are not serious yet and asks the reason for the hunger strike. The reason is
futile and his own friends shake their heads. The doctor sympathyzes with their
cause and offers lodging to one of them, in order to relieve the overcrowding.
The exiles read in the newspaper that a famous Chilean singer, affiliated with
the military regime of Chile, is coming to perform in Paris.
They invite him over and, one chat after the other, he becomes a
charming guest in a suit and tie.
When the Algerian boy tries a bit too aggressively to get a date from a blonde
Chilean, the singer shows up to send him away and intone a song for her.
When the Algerian returns with a knife, the singer is quick to hide and
abandon the woman. Another exile calmly disarms the Algerian, and the singer
can resume his performance for the blonde. The same man who disarmed the
Algerian later scolds the blonde for being racist. She is almost forced to
accept a date with the Algerian.
Speaking directly at the camera,
the blonde makes fun of the way each of the men declines responsibility for
the money that they have received, money that keeps decreasing because each
intermediary wants a cut.
The singer is upset that the others don't treat him with the same friendliness
just because he is not a communist like them. He enjoys living with them
and doesn't realize that they actually kidnapped him. He is happy like a
child when he is allowed (forced?) to attend an ideological class.
The group is homogeneously Marxist-Leninist: one day they climb a tower to
admire a panorama of the city's financial district and spend all the time
cursing and yelling at the city's high-rise buildings.
The group eventually lets the singer return to his hotel, where he will finally
realize that he had actually been kidnapped.
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.
The little Monique learns from schoolmates that her mother is not her real
mother. Her mother admits that her real mother is another woman,
Marie. Traumatized, Monique moves to another city and drifts into a
turbulent sex life, even making love in a hospital bed with an unconscious
patient. One day she falls for a 65-year-old man who becomes her sugar daddy.
Then she becomes a prostitute, but always lonely and sad.
One day she meets a tv repeairman who is from her home village, Henri.
She envies his simple but happy life. They get married and open a bar.
Alice knows the secret of Monique's past and blackmails her.
Then Alice seduces Henri. Monique would be
willing to forgive him for the sake of their little child but cannot stand
it when the two lovers behave like a couple, so she kills both herself and
her child with one bullet.
Henri marries Alice. We see
lots of dogs barking madly in a shelter.
Then he kills her, dismembers her, burns her corpse and buries the body parts
away from the cafe in different directions.
Henri becomes a criminal and ends up in prison, where he discovers his
homosexuality. When he is released, he learns that the body parts have
been found. The detective is smart enough to realize that the body parts
have been buried in a circle that is centered on the bar.
The camera shows us an empty telephone booth.
Henri decides to have a sex change operation and renames himself
Odile. She falls for a 65-year-old man who becomes her sugar daddy,
just like Monique did. Henri/Odile feels
nostalgia for the hometown, moves back there, buys the bar and
adopts an orphan, Luigi. One day a young man tries to rape her and kills her.
Schoolmates tell Luigi that his mother was killed, but Luigi replies she
wasn't his real mother.
La Vocation Suspendue/ The Suspended Vocation (1978), an adaptation of
Pierre Klossowski's novel (1950), attacks the dogmas and bureaucracy of the
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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
Inquadratura immobile su quartiere deserto.
Un intervistatore parla dei quadri di un pittore mentre il collezionista
risponde alle sue domande su quei quadri. Sono soltanto sei perche' il
settimo scomparve, all'apice dello scandalo da essi suscitato.
Il collezionista racconta come le autorita`, spaventate da cio` che
il quadro avrebbe rivelato, interruppero il lavoro del
pittore, e come il pittore si difese sostenendo che il quadro non
esisteva, era soltanto l'impressione lasciata da tableaux vivants.
Per dimostrare che il pittore disse la verita`,
il collezionista fa vedere all'intervistatore i tableaux vivants che
ha ricreato nella sua proprieta`.
Il collezionista svela all'intervistatore i significati segreti dei quadri,
girando intorno ai personaggi che li impersonano in casa sua, analizzando
ogni dettaglio con il fine raziocinio di uno Sherlock Holmes.
Gli allestimenti rivelano cosi` che alcuni quadri non sono altro che giochi di
specchi. Un romanzo aiuta a decifrare altri quadri come cronache di una
torbida storia di passioni borghesi che culmino` in una cerimonia satanica
e con il sacrificio di un giovane omosessuale.
I movimenti dei personaggi di quadro in quadro tracciano traiettorie
circolari nell'aria, che, combinate fra di loro, definiscono una sfera.
L'ultimo quadro rappresenta pertanto un culto esoterico, che forse fu la
vera causa dello scandalo.
Il collezionista ha cosi` svelato il mistero, ma e` ancora insoddisfatto.
Si aggira fra i suoi personaggi, fra le scene che ha allestito nel suo
palazzo, alla ricerca del senso perduto di quei dipinti.
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.
British families get together for a child's birthday dinner.
Peter's and Barbara's little daughter Annie is the birthday girl.
Instead of cake they serve a roasted pig.
Francoise stares disapprovingly.
Linda's little daughter Sally hides and cries because they killed a little pig .
Peter tells her that she has to eat it in order to grow up.
At night Jim's and Francoise's little boy Ron watches the shadows of his
parents on the wall as they make love.
Linda calls that Sally is sick and they will stay home.
In the morning 5 adults and 2 children set out for a camping trip:
Peter, Barbara, their child Annie, Jim, Francoise, their child Ron, and
the gruumpy guide, Linda's brother Gilbert.
Jim hits Peter for fun but Peter feels real pain.
They pitch tent by a lagoon.
Peter upsets Gilbert when he tries to start a fire.
Barbara upsets Gilbert when she picks a flower.
Jim takes pictures of everything.
In the morning the tents are surrounded by snow and Gilbert is gone.
Ron and Annie play with bones found in Gilbert's knapsack.
The adults reconstruct the skeleton of a foot.
Barbara undresses and starts washing herself... apparently indifferent to the
dead body lying in the lagoon in front of her: Gilbert is dead.
At night they hear a shot.
They find a place that generates amazing echoes.
They suspect that they are walking in circles, but they fully realize it when
Ron finds Gilbert's corpse in the lagoon... where they camped days before.
The adults discuss burying the corpse, but they don't have tools.
The children stare at the sky and emit long droning sounds like Indian "om"s.
The group resumes the walk and stumbles into a dam and a road. There are two
middle-aged men enjoying the quiet. They don't speak English and
Francoise tries in vain to make them understand that they are lost.
The two men are either idiots or pranksters, but nyway indifferent to their
case. It is a confused useless discussion and the group eventually loses its
patience and walks away. It starts raining and the two men yell at each other.
Eventually the group runs out of food. They are back at the lagoon.
Jim goes scouting alone but comes back saying that it is impossible to
walk in a straight line.
The children play with Gilbert's corpse, that the adults wrapped in plastic.
Annie even sneaks inside the plastic to admire the rotting leg, and soon Ron
follows her inside.
It snows again. They keep walking and getting back to the lagoon.
They can hear airplanes taking off nearby: they are obviously not far from
Peter delivers a speech at the light of the campfire,
invoking the Christian tradition of the holy communion,
and they finally resort to roasting Gilbert's corpse.
Only Francoise refuses to eat human flesh. The children are particularly
happy. Barbara tries to convince her to join them.
Peter organizes a strike against her: nobody shall talk to her until she
starts eating Gilbert's roasted body.
Meanwhile, the two idiots (who now speak English) are being interrogated
about the missing party and their testimony is as confusing as it can be.
Francoise perseveres in her determination not to eat human flesh. She is dying.
Her little son
Ron begs her in vain, and Peter sentences him to no "communion" for having
broken the rule not to talk to her.
They pass in front of a man and didn't notice him.
Meanwhile at home, Linda feeds Sally thinking of her uncle Gilbert.
Back to the woods, Annie has seen Ron steal his mother's hand: obviously
Francoise died and they are now eating her corpse, but Ron wants to keep
a hand as a memento. Annie steals it from him and they fight.
Barbara incites a delirious Peter to attack Jim with a stick.
Peter keeps savagely hitting Jim, and hysterically asking Barbara for
Barbara stares without moving and without speaking (and so does Jim's son
Ron) as Peter fails to kill Jim and Jim rises up all bleeding and wondering
why Peter did it. Now Peter freaks out that Jim is going to kill him,
and has a heart attack. Jim even tries to save him. Her husband is still
breathing and Barbara, indifferent, is already saying that it is better
that way. She is more concerned about Jim's wounds than her husbands last
gasps. Jim, now a widower, and Barbara, soon a widow, kiss passionately
over Peter's dead body.
The man they passed before is camping in the same woods.
The three survivors (Jim, Barbara and Ron, apparently the girl is dead too)
finally run into his camp.
They corner him, ready to kill him and eat him.
This odd camper repeats every word they say. He stuff
rocks into his pockets and suddenly kills Jim with a rock.
Other people show up. There's a whole group of rescuers.
Nobody says a word, but Barbara and Ron (and the mysterious man who repeats
everything that he hears) are saved and brought back to civilization.
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
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",
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.
One week before the end of the war (World War II?) in an exotic colony someone
Isidore is serving her parents, unable to forget somebody, presumably a lover.
Her father and her mother dine on the beach. Her father is fond of a white
ball that seems to obey him like a pet, but he has a strong toothache and his
wife (after checking his teeth, a scene shown from inside the mouth)
agrees that they should move somewhere else.
After a seance, in which Isidore's parents interpret
the bouncing ball as the presence of their lost son,
her father offers Isidore money. She rejects him until the price is right
and then let him hug her...
Meanwhile, her mother continues the experiment and
two soldiers materialize looking for a child.
Later the mother takes Isidore's money.
Isadore, alone in her room, walks around brandishing a knife.
A poor orphan maerializes, saying that he's hiding.
She lulls him to sleep.
When her father offers her money, she gets into a state of hypnosis while
rubbing the banknotes against her skin.
She sleepwalks outside the house and through the village, followed by a
Her father watches her from a window, happy that she's finally going to
commit suicide. Instead she dances in the waters with the cyclist.
She wants to take the child home but instead he leaves a phosphorescent ring
for her and declares that they are engaged, asking her to kiss him on the mouth.
Later she reads in the newspaper that an entire family (parents, four children,
and relatives who lived with them) have been massacred, their bodies sexually
abused and mutilated, and that the only survivor is the child Pierre, who
Isidore understands that the child is Pierre and tells him that she understands
why he would hate his family. Her father is sleeping in an upright position
against her door. Pierre confesses that he also stole all the jewelry and
pulls it out from his schoolbag. She marvels at the necklaces. Then Pierre
pulls out the bloody knife and proceeds to slit Isidore's father throat
while he is sleeping upright. Isidore decides that they have to leave the house
and takes shelter at the cyclist's.
This young handsome man, who is getting dressed and perfumed for a hot date,
and is practicing his English, tells her that all women want to sleep
with him and he is tired of this. He calls her Madeleine. She tells him that
she wants everything that he got and wants it right away. She introduces her
fiance, the child. The cyclist makes fun of him, but the child points out that
he is gone all white. The cyclist asks for his rifle, takes off his old-man
denture and shoots himself.
At the beach the child tells Isidore that he is trying to get rid of her
because his family forbade him to get married. She is shocked and chases him.
Someone catches her and she finds herself tied to a bed and someone blindfolds
her holding a hammer over her head.
Later, having untied her so that she can eat, he introduces himself as Tobi
and calls her Carmela.
He sounds completely insane, talking of a dead colonel's hand.
He tells Isidore that his mother is upset with her.
He lives alone in a derelict castle in a remote rocky side of the island, and
she is the first person to reach that side.
She asks in vain about the child, whom she calls Malo.
Tobi ties her hands again.
She wakls up in a wide basement under an arched ceiling, still tied to the bed.
She tells him the story of her life: her sex life, her marriage, her life in a
convent, her relationship with an older man, her life as a
maid in the house of this man who had married someone else.
Busy reading the old newspaper that he keeps reading,
he has not listened to a word she said.
The man is completely insane, chatting with someone who doesn't exist and
then pretending to be a widow. Basically, he is a case of split personality,
shifting between Tobi and his (presumably dead) sister Carmela.
When he releases her, she watches him impersonating different people one after
the other, both males and females.
His multiple personalities materialize in front of her when she finds a skull
under her skirt: multiple Tobis starts throwing the skull to each other around
her. She is now dressed elegantly and they have a nice candlelight dinner.
He kisses her violently in the castle's garden, making her bleed.
Then he pulls out a knife but faints when he tries to slit her throat.
Now she seems to enjoy her captivity and even psychoanalyzes Tobi, knowing
that in the same discussion she is talking to him as Tobi, the colonel,
Jeremy, her father, her granma, etc.
Then suddenly she runs away and finds the child in a cliff with two comfortable
chairs and a bookcase. She tells him what happened to her at the castle but
he doesn't listen because she's reading the newspaper (just like Tobi) except
that the child is reading about his own story.
She meets Tobi again, who informs that his entire family
committed suicide: his sister, his father, his granma, the colonel...
and admits that his mother never existed.
Now that they are all dead, he doesn't know who he is anymore.
Malo/Pierre finds her asleep on the rocks and hands her his knife.
She rises sleepwalking, walks towards Tobi and slits his throat.
He thanks her before dying.
Her cheerful mother visits Isidore in jail and brings her the good news that her
father forgave her from the otherworld (another seance, obviously).
Then two soldiers visit her. She thinks they are taking her to the
execution, but instead they tell her a delirious story that the child
was the island's prophet, Don Sebastian, who killed his entire family,
and so forth. Suddenly she turns pregnant and
they get on their knees in front of her: Sebastian is being born again in
her belly. They pray in a foreign language (Spanish).
Years later she is at the beach with little Sebastian, a cripple with no
arms and a hunchback. She shows him the castle and takes him to the
grave of his father. The child bites her and runs away. She chases him
and ends up in a cave where she finds Tobi alive. An old woman, she now
only has two teeth like a vampyre.
Sebastian kicks a big rock into the cave to kill his mother.
The last scene has mother and daughter chatting while staring at the sea
(the camera only shows their backs). A male armed with a gun walks behind them.
He pulls the gun to his head as if to commit suicide. Then the camera shows
his face, which alternates between a skull and Isidore's dead father's face.
The two women see a giant child appear over the horizon, waving his hand
while their voices grow older and slower.
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 film begins in black and white. In
1958 at a time of high inflation the student Tadusz
kills an antique dealer and only steals three coins.
He survives a stray bullet in the street and then meets a sailor.
This sailor, after some absurdist dialogue
(the sailor seems to know everything about the student),
takes him to a fancy night-club and
offers him his job (and therefore safe passage) on a ship if the student
to listen to his life's story and pay the three coins he stole.
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.
a child, who lives with a charming mother, Lily, and an arrogant father, Jim,
is watching a film on television about bandits raiding a town in
Africa for diamonds and gold. Shortly afterwards a stranger arrives at
their coastal hotel, a mysterious captain who makes fun of his father,
calling him Cutino instead of Jim.
The child sees the captain flirt with his mother: obviously they have known
each other for a long time and they may have been lovers.
A group of tourists arrive at the hotel.
One of them is a blind man, whom the child finds dangling from a window
at the top of a tower and who chases him down the tower,
who seems to recognize his mother's voice and knows the captain.
This blind man disappears, last seen dancing on a cliff.
A young writer also arrives, who knows all about the child.
The child tells the captain that the blind man had a present for him,
a glass eye. His mother is eavesdropping and cries. The captain uses chloroform
to send the child to sleep. The child sleepwalks to a balcony and
witnesses the stranger and his father fighting in front of his mother.
The writer asks the child about the captain. The camera alternates images
of the writer and of the blind man. The child, terrified, throws stones at
the blind man, who is obviously not dead. The child
sees his mother and the captain kissing; and
later the lovers mock his father, and, surprisingly, his father
joins their hysterical laughter.
Alone in the hotel, he meditates about the correct
interpretation of the story he is living through.
The blind man brutally flogs the child in front of his parents.
His mother lulls him to sleep, and then the adults dance at loud music.
The child sleepwalks into a room where the writer is typing,
but the writer hasn't written anything yet, all the pages are blank.
The child witnesses the blind man's funeral.
His father tries to hang himself in the bathroom, apparently one of the many
attempts of his life. Fed up with his parents, the
child walks away with suitcase, but is picked up in the road by a cobbler
named Silver, who takes him to his restaurant.
Silver owns only one book, Stevenson's novel "The Treasure Island".
The child returns to town in time for his father's funeral: this time he
succeeded in killing himself. There are new guests:
a fake doctor who pretends to be his father in order to scare him (and makes
his mom laugh) and his fake-millionaire
friend Tino, with whom he plays bridge; the child's attractive aunt Helen
and a new boy who helps his mother around the hotel.
His mother and his aunt discuss fake diamonds.
The captain is now very ill and reads
Stevenson's novel "The Treasure Island".
The dying captain first confesses to child that he is the one who killed
his father and then he denies it.
He is not quite dead when an earthquake shakes the place, and he gets up
terrified, so terrified that he accidentally jumps from the window.
Suddenly the child realizes that
the events of the hotel simply mirror the serial that he has been watching
The characters who are staying at the hotel mirror the treasure-hunting
mercenaries of that tv series. He concludes that he himself must be
the one they are looking for, the one who has the treasure map.
Meanwhile, his mother is taken away by the police for unexplained reasons.
The tv series ends.
Helen disappears, the only one who did not have a corresponding character in the serial.
Tino and the fake doctor return and discuss Stevenson's book. They think that
modern pirates used that novel to hide their treasures, and organize an
expedition with a French captain. Silver and the child are invited to join.
Tino and Helen exchange letters during the journey (delivered by bottles
thrown in the ocean).
Then one day they have to flee the boat that has been taken over by Silver's
mercenaries, who are exactly those of the tv serial.
The boat capsizes. The castaways drift
on a raft until they are rescued by another boat, whose captain, Mendoza, claims
to know all about them because he reads books. On the same boat they spot
the child's aunt Helen and Silver's mercenaries, theoretically prisoners
(Mendoza is fond of Melville's story "Benito Cereno", in which the jailors
turn out to be the prisoners).
Silver's mercenaries take over the boat and jail Tino, the fake doctor
and the captains, leaving the child and Helen free to chat on the deck.
She candidly confesses that she too is looking for treasures.
But she is also after the whole game that these amoral people are playing:
she thinks they are dangerous and wants to kill them all.
The captives (the two captains, Tino, Helen, the child, etc)
escape and hide on an island. After a bloody battle with
Silver's mercenaries, the captain Mendoza tortures a prisoner to death.
Silver opts for negotiations: he demands the boy and refuses all other counteroffers.
The French captain refuses to surrender the child on principle.
The child, meanwhile, is indifferent to the outcome because he knows that
it is all a farce and he won't get hurt.
The writer appears in the middle of the jungle and
confesses to him that he is only interested in scaring children.
Jonathan, that has been impersonating Stevenson's Jim,
tells the writer that this is the last time he will talk to him.
At this point the narrating voiceover, that so far has pretended to be Jonathan
years later the facts, takes over and continues the narration from an objective
viewpoint (but the voice remains the same).
Jonathan is kidnapped by Silver's mercenaries and it is now revealed to him
that Silver is actually a scholar, the polomologist Omar Amerilly, who has
invented a game titled "Treasure Island" that is played every year, and Jonathan
is now playing the role of Jim. They explain that
the whole world is a giant game.
When his friends attack, Jonathan says that he wants to quit the game.
He walks away and reaches Ben Gun's jungle camp, Ben Gun being the one in
Stevenson's novel who has found the treasure. Ben Gun accidentally shoots
one of his diamonds with a slingshot and kills the writer.
Silver comes out of the jungle and yells angry at him that he
killed a great actor, the best Jim impersonator ever.
Silver is still yelling when Helen shoots him with a gun because Silver was
about to reveal a secret. Silver dies repeating
"It was not written".
Tino asks Ben Gun to officiate his wedding to Helen.
As they are burying the writer at the beach (in a graveyard that has many
crosses), Ben Gun asks the child whether he intends to ever play the game again.
The child replies that he will play Silver next time.
The narrativing voiceover comments that it is the last day of Jonathan's life,
and that Jonathan would have made a good narrating voiceover.
The narrating voiceover will remain the only Jim for the rest of eternity.
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.
Alouette lives in a future in which traffic congestions are endemic and bicycles
have sails and bizarrely costumed people wander around the abandoned cars.
She is confined to a wheelchair and befriends a scientist who performs
She spends her spare time watching prince Jason III on television.
After one of these speeches, the prince is doomed: his ratings have fallen
at a level that automatically triggers his execution by car accident.
He flees and employs the scientist's services to get a new personality.
The scientist is a maniac with no morals. He watches the video of a man
committing suicide while having dinner.
A number of body parts and objects must be collected for the experiment to
succeed. Eventually a new prince is crowned, destined to die in a car crash.
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.
A young nameless Arab is hired as projectionist in a movie theater.
He is fascinated by a female dancer featured in a Middle-eastern film,
but he can never watch the movie entirely because he is always interrupted
by his coworker Kassim.
Kassim is horribly disfigured by a disease but has a gorgeous girlfriend,
Fatima, who looks just like the dancer of the movie although dressed modestly.
One night a boy in the street summons the nameless Arab to a puppet theater,
where a show is being enacted especially designed for him.
Later an old man shows up at the movie theater claiming to be his uncle.
This "uncle" mocks him by repeating his sentences. Then beats him up
and spits a disgusting liquid in his face.
A young man shows up, delivering an important (albeit unfinished) letter
from his dead father, the protagonist's brother.
This boy falls in love with the little mute who lives in the movie theater.
Suddenly the nameless Arab is with the dancer (a dream?).
In a fit of jealousy. he kills and dismembers her
with help from his "uncle". They carry the chest on a train.
A fellow passenger tells the story of a man whose suitcase speaks on his
behalf while the "uncle" snores. The uncle and the nameless Arab
get off at a deserted depot. They carry the chest to a car and then, having
hauled it to the roof of the car, drive through the woods.
They dump the chest in a lake,
but later they see body parts floating down the river.
The nameless Arab panics all the time. When he gets back home, he lies in bed
with a high fever, hallucinating, convinced that he is going to die (the end
of the dream?).
Now we enter the Middle-eastern film that he has never been able to watch
to the end. A naked, bearded, Spanish-speaking, Islamic guru is praying in the
woods. A female genie removes her veil and her clothes and tells him a prophecy
by dancing without uttering a word.
He leaves in a quest to find his two uncles and walks half-naked to the sea,
where he finds skeletons, bubbling in the water, that talk to him claiming to
be his uncles. He meets an old man who tells him a story by gesturing and
dancing, without speaking. The movie shifts to
a Spanish mosque where a religious ceremony is
being performed by veiled women led by a Jewish dancer and singer with whom
two twins are both in love.
We know that this is the film that the protagonist is watching because every now
and then we see his face and the flickering light of the projector.
He is interrupted again, but this time by Fatima, Kasim's fiance who looks
like the Jewish dancer. She captures images of the film in her right hand and
sound in her left hand, and eats them.
His mind whirls in a vortex of flickering images of Fatima.
She confronts his desire and challenges him to challenge Kassim in a duel.
The nameless Arab spends the day training for a boxing duel,
but the duel, directed by a blindfolded Fatima, is a knife duel.
Both men end up wounded and bleeding copiously, but the nameless Arab wins.
The nameless Arab lies feverish in bed
(another bad dream?),
nursed by the boy who delivered the dying father's letter.
Agonizing, the nameless Arab screams that he is his uncle, but the
boy replies that this is not his film.
Back to the Spanish movie, the original half-naked guru keeps "listening" to the
story told, without speaking, by the dancing old man (his father?)
The story is now that one of the twins marries a twin of the dancer, and
an uncle attends the wedding with his beautiful niece. The twin falls in love
with this cousin and stalks her in the streets, passing by the stall where the
butcher of sinners beheads people, until she reveals to him that
she's a Christian named Rosalia.
Back to the movie theater, the nameless Arab's crazy
uncle resurfaces. He is shocked that the mute girl and the boy
(the protagonist's nephew) sleep together holding hands.
Suddenly the protagonist realizes that he doesn't need to watch the movie
after all, because the twins are his uncles and the seductive dancer
is his mother.
Nonetheless the movie within the movie (the Spanish movie) continues with
the butcher showing Rosalia his collection of heads of sinners and then with
the bridegroom and his uncle butchering the girl herself and taking her
away in a chest similar to the one used by the nameless Arab in the
There's a moment when we see the movie theater, the audience and the nameless
Arab standing up and watching the movie. The mute girl tiptoes behind him
and blindfolds him. The nameless Arab screams as if he was being tortured.
The last scene shows the nameless Arab leaving the movie theater with a
suitcase, mumbling that he never had any memories and walking to the sea.
His body is transparent, like a ghost.
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.
A kid walks among shoes abandoned in the street. He picks up a pair of boots.
He sees a man sitting on the sidewalk and crying with
a knife in his hand and a portable radio next to him.
The man mumbles something about himself, then sticks the knife in his own
belly and sends the kid away.
The kid is stopped by another man, who has found a portable radio
This man is obnoxious and wants to have an argument. The man with the knife
in his belly comes behind him and stabs him to death. The kid walks into a bar
and calls the police that there is a dead man on the sidewalk. The man with
the knife in his belly walks in and tells him to call his son, which the kid does.
When he leaves the bar, the kid finds the suicidal man asleep on the steps of
a house and he takes his money. On the stairs to his apartment the kid meets
a girl and invites her out. They are interrupted by the suicidal man who
walks up the stairs in pain and tells the girl that he is the kid's father.
The kid keeps denying it but the girl believes the old man. They walk into
the kid's apartment. The girl calls an ambulance, the kid leaves them.
She is being kind to him but the old man pulls out his knife from his belly
and stabs her to death. A child walks in: his mother sent him to ask the old
man to turn down the music that is playing from a portable radio..
They argue then the child runs away. Meanwhile, the kid is calling the
old man's son and giving him the address where his father is, but the
son thinks it's a joke.
The phone call is interrupted by banging on the door: a big black man walks
in with a bottle of alcohol.
He walks out and has a fight with the suicidal man. When the kid walks out,
they are both sitting on the floor of the hallway and the black man is
sewing a wound in his belly (presumably the suicidal man stabbed him)
but they seem to be old friends. The black man tells the kid that he is in
love with the same girl. The suicidal man tells the kid that the girl is
at the hospital, badly hurt.
After chatting with an old lady in a wheelchair who thinks that her favorite television show
is more important than the murder of the girl, the kid is grabbed by three
other kids and taken to the bathroom where they force him to peep into a hole
from which he sees the suicidal man kill another woman. The suicidal man
then enters the bathroom and kills the three kids.
In a black-and-white scene
the kids returns to the apartment of the wheelchaired woman and meets the
protagonist of her favorite television show. The kid and the television
character dine together in a restaurant (still in black and white)
and discuss the man's wife (also
a character in the TV show) until the suicidal man walks in and scares
away the character (and the film returns to color).
The kid, the suicidal man and the black man drive around in a big car.
They stop in front of the window of a woman loved by both the suicidal
man and the black man. They walk inside and ... it's a trap. Armed men
have been waiting for them. They work for the character of the soap opera.
In fact, the suicidal man, the black man and the kid have just entered
the house in which the soap opera takes place.
And the film returns to black and white and plunges into the soap opera.
The suicidal man's love is the wife of the character in the soap opera.
The two characters kiss (back to color) and we hear the suicidal man cry.
The character comments that the suicidal man is an actor too, just a bad
actor. The camera backs out and shows that the two characters are surrounded
by the kid and the black man, and the suicidal man is crying on the floor.
The screen goes black and we hear only frantic chaotic noise. Then the
kid is alone with the woman, who asks him to clean up the blood before leaving.
But they cannot communicate: he can see her lips moving but he cannot hear
The scene changes to a black-and-white monologue by a man wearing a hat who
talks about catching a killer, a scene reminiscent of hard-boiled thrillers.
The kid walks back into his apartment and tells his girl that he has finished
his thesis and is planning to give up music and painting after graduating.
The girl is in good health and is his model. As she is posing for the painting,
the suicidal man walks in. She grabs a knife and yells at him. Then the black
man walks in, dressed in a suit and tie.
The girl goes back to posing and they all start drawing her.
The suicidal man disappears and the child, who has been hiding in a tub,
tells them that three men took him away. The black man and the child rush out.
The black man finds the hard-boiled character wearing the suicidal man's
clothes: he confesses to the killing. The black man doesn't sound too disturbed
as long as the killer tells him that the dead man is in paradise.
The black man returns to the apartment to tell the kid that the suicidal man
is dead. The kid decides to leave the girl at home and follow the black man.
We hear the audience laughing and we are reminded that the apartment is the
one that we've seen in the tv set of the wheelchaired woman.
The black man and the kid digs in the beach because the black man has smelled
the corpse. Eventually they start hearing the voice of the suicidal man calling
for help. They pull him out alive.
At night the suicidal man stands under the window of his love.
His love has just appeared to the kid, who was typing on a typewriter, and
tells him that she killed her husband.
As they are baout to make love a hitman walks in and shoots the kid, whom he
mistakes for a killer. She tells him that he made a mistake, but he refuses to
accept it because he is Swiss. Blood is still sprinkling out of the kid's skull.
The suicidal man and the black man are waiting at the beach.
The suicidal man guesses that the kid is dead.
The suicidal starts chatting with a tourist who tells him that she was in a
coma for four years.
The film returns to the street of abandoned shoes, except that now we see
the suicidal man laying down the shoes.
A young man is lured by the shoes in the alley where the suicidal man
is sitting with the knife in his belly.
And, presumably, the cycle resumes.
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.
A young French doctor, Felicien, travels to Portugal where his father invested in
a factory of prosthetic limbs run by English businessman Anthony.
The surrounding land is haunted by all sorts of spirits, zombies and
by the Virgin Mary in person.
Felicien is hosted at the splendid mansion, owned by Anthony's father-in-law
(played by the same actor), father of Anthony's sexy wife Ines.
These people are actually not what they seem to be, thanks to confusing
scientific experiments performed in the mansion.
Felicien tries to make sense of this irrational world while discovering
a man who paints using corpses,
a boy who can levitate people,
a mad priest, etc.
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
The film begins with a radio announcer who is reading in the recording
studio from some notes. He is going to tell four stories.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Jessie is a glacial hitwoman hired to kill a businessman.
Jessie is also a suicidal newlywed on her Caribbean honeymoon with said
businessman, still haunted by the man who raped her.
Each Jessie dreams the other.
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
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 story is being told by Solange (Catherine Deneuve) in a prison cell to
One day Solange received a phone call announcing that
her son Pascal had died in a motorcycle accident.
She is now afraid of phone calls.
A friend calls to tell her that the police found the killer of an old lady,
although this kid, Rene, claims that the real killers are the members of a secret
psychoanalytic society. Solange's mother actually likes that society and thinks
it is silly that the law considers it illegal.
At the cremation ceremony, attended also by Solange's ex-husband Bob who is
Solange is surrounded by people who are there to
discuss Rene's case, not her son Pascal. Her boss Mathieu wants her to take
this impossible case.
An old man, Georges, shows up who claims to be a friend of the murdered woman,
and is in fact a member of the secret society, and asks Solange not to defend
the suspect. He is the main eye witness.
Later Solange has accepted the case and tells her boss of her initial moves.
The boy, Rene, is accused of murdering his aunt.
She visited Rene in prison and played a game with him that consists in
switching personalities: Rene played the lawyer, and Solange played the
accused. In doing so Solange inadvertently disclosed that she loses all her
cases, that she is famous for taking impossible ones.
While she is discussing Rene with her boss, Solange calls him Pascal (her son's
name). She in fact admits that now he lives inside her.
Solange visits the house of the victim, a huge mansion whose housekeeper calls
Rene "the monster" and shows her his bedroom, from which all furniture has been removed.
The victim was a famous psychologist and there is now a plan to turn the house,
full of art, into a museum.
Solange sits at her desk and starts reading the victim's diary.
The woman wrote disturbing things about Rene.
At the age of five he was already masturbating and displayed brutally
She spends the night there, staring at the various portraits and pledging
to a painting of the victim that she, Solange, will be her
(wobviously the dead woman reminds Solange of herself).
The aunst basically started a psychological program to analyze this child.
After seven years the aunt reports that his behavior is normal but she
suspects that deep inside nothing has changed.
The next scene is a flashback that shows Solange impersonating the dead woman
having breakfast with Rene and
meeting with the school's principal to discuss one of Rene's heinous acts.
From this point on the same actress is
playing both Solange and the dead woman, Jeanne.
Another flashback shows Jeanne years later
meeting a young adult Rene after he has been gone for nine days and needs money. She refuses
to give him anything and seconds later she sees him running away
chased by a crowd shouting "thief". Georges meets her at the cafe while the
chase is going on and tells Jeanne that he found a
job and an apartment for the boy. A man who is reading the newspaper interrupts
them and rudely introduces himself: he is a famous psychoanalyst, Christian,
who promises they will see him again.
When she gets home, Jeanne finds Rene in her studio reading her notes about him,
the notes in which she describes him as a violent character.
Rene is also a cynical seductor. One night he is making love to
a girl in his bedroom. The middle-aged housekeeper sees them from a
transparent aquarium in the wall and enters the room calling him "monster"
but then she seems to join the orgy. Jeanne comes to the same aquarium but
doesn't seem to notice what is going on inside the room, simply using it
as a mirror. Jeanne decides to use a special therapy on Rene, which consists
in they switching personality. The dialogue gets intense, with Rene scolding
Jeanne and even slapping her as Jeanne could have done to him. By the end
of the game, Rene has voluntarily revealed all the jewelry and money that
he stole from her. But one night she returns home to find that Rene and two
friends are stealing even the furniture from her house. The two friends claim
that Rene invited them to do her a favor. Rene, furious and drunk,
begins the game of switched personalities with Jeanne, who goes along
automatically. Jeanne, possibly still playing Rene, grabs a gun. Rene,
definitely playing Jeanne, challenges her into shooting him. Jeanne shoots
and wounds Rene, at which Rene screams "beep", the signal that the game must
stop. This happened four months before Jeanne was murdered, and that's where
the diary that Solange is reading ends. She is about to leave the house when
Georges shows up and tells her that there are three one-way mirrors in the house
and that the house used to be a brothel and that all the paintings are old
paintings of prostitutes to which Jeanne superimposed her face.
As Jeanne is about to leave the house, the housekeeper whispers that she would
like to tell her the truth.
Back at the office she tells Mathieu her theory: Jeanne trained Rene to kill
her, so this should be considered a case of suicide. Mathieu tries to kiss her
(obviously they have been lovers) but she rejects him. She has lunch with
her boss, a judge, and they are interrupted by Christian. The judge tells Solange that
Christian and Georges are arch-enemies in psychology (which explains why they had been rude to
each other when Jeanne first met Christian at the cafe). Christian has his own
theory of crime, and calls Rene the victim. Before he has time to explain,
Georges shows up and Christian leaves. Solange lunches with her mother who
tells her how, as a child, she used to throw cats off the window. Later
Sonange's mom is examined by Georges in his psychiatric studio and tells Georges
that Solange showed the same violent symptoms that Rene the monster
showed towards her aunt. At the end of the session she has an argument with
Georges, she gets emotional, she has a heart attack and she dies.
At the funeral of her mother Mathieu tells her that Rene has tried to
commit suicide. When she visits Rene at the hospital, she witnesses Georges
being expelled by security guards.
Solange decides to confront Georges at Jeanne's mansion.
The housekeeper lets her in and then locks her in a room that has one of those
one-way mirrors from which she can see herself superimposed to Georges and
his friends who are enacting the murder scene in the other room. This is
Georges' technique that he applied to Rene too: enact a living tableux
to heal the patient of her or his psychological problems.
The enactment is done according to a complex procedure that involves many
of them acting blindfolded and that eventually
leaves the killer alone with the victim. Solange is released by one of the
women and invited to a party with psychologists of Georges' society.
In the restrooms she meets a girl, Soledad, who tells her how she was hired
to play the role of Rene's girlfriend for what they claimed were therapy
sessions but to her they were simply sex orgies.
Rene, meanwhile, claims that he was hit by someone and, when he woke up again,
he found his aunt dead and panicked. She proves this at the trial and gets
Rene acquitted. She calls the judge, who is at the hospital in grave conditions,
with the good news. At the party to celebrate Solange's rare success in court
Georges tells her that she got it wrong, that Rene is a killer. Christian is
also there, as are all the members of Georges' society. Then all
the members of the society and Georges himself drink poisoned drinks
(because they feel insulted by the outcome of the trial)
in front of Solange, Christian and Mathieu.
Rene, released from jail, becomes Solange's lover. They play
mother and son in public while having sex in private. Then one day he
disappears. She talks about Rene with the judge at the hospital, who tells
her that Rene is the Antichrist (he has inherited a lot of money but still
begs for money) and then dies.
At his funeral Christian invites her to visit her museum, a museum devoted
to his theory:
he has accumulated evidence that all crimes can
be reduced to a limited number of crimes that keep enacting themselves.
Christian believes that people don't live stories: it is
stories that inhabit people. Christian has hired Yves, Rene's best friend
who has also briefly been accused of the murder but then released.
When Rene finally shows up claiming that he needs money to pay Yves,
Solange knows that he is lying. Rene confesses what happened that day,
although it remains on confusing for us with Jeanne lying on a couch,
threatening to call the police on Rene,
and a blindfolded Rene holding a knife in front of her, and hints that
the crime might have been instigated by Yves (also shown blindfolded in
the room before Rene takes his place).
Jeanne's last words are of regret: it appears that she raised the child to
become an experiment in her psychiatric theory, and now she's paying the
Anyway, Solange forgives him and they resume their relationship.
Solange becomes increasingly dominated by Rene, who likes to humiliate
her in front of his friends Yves and Soledad.
One day, after having a vision
of herself as a little girl holding a cat, Solange
stabbes Rene 40 times with a kitchen knife, and then kills Yves and Soledad too.
She has been telling this story (the film that we have watched)
in a prison cell to her attorney.
Her last comment is that
the judge was right: all the members of the society of psychiatrists
had bequeathed their fortunes to Rene, so Rene was rich. Now she is: she is
the only heir of Rene's fortune.
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.
The camera tours the bedroom of the old dying writer while he is dictating his
memoirs and meditations to his loyal scribe and housekeeper Celeste.
He takes a lens to look at photographs of his family and friends.
The last one one is himself as a child.
He is catapulted back to a party of the aristocracy, dominated by the stately
personality of Odette (Catherine Deneuve), who patiently listens to
a hysterically petulant gossiper. Odette opens the door where
Marcel as a child is playing with a device, and
the camera tours the room: for a second the adults turn into wax figures.
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
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
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
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.
The wealthy Ariane and her husband Pierre
are celebrating the birthday
of their little boy Camille, who seems to be in a strange mood.
His uncle Serge shows up late. The nanny Helene takes Camille to a park and his mother
promises to join him at the hour when he was born but then she shows up hours
later. Camille has been killing the time playing with his camcorder, filming
an imaginary friend, Paul.
Camille feels that everybody is making fun of him on his birthday, and
eventually snaps. After having asked his own mother what she was doing when
he was born, he tells her that she is not his real mother.
One night as it is snowing outside both Ariane and Camille are sleeping.
Camille dreams that he is called Paul by another child,
not shown, and that Paul calls this child Alexandre.
Ariane wakes up screaming: she was having a nightmare.
Before leaving for a business trip his father asks Camille what is wrong with him but then has to rush away.
Camille, still in a strange mood, asks his mother whether "that man" is her husband.
Camille demands to be taken to his real mother: he's afraid that she's getting
anxious. Ariane goes along
thinking that this is all a joke. He insists and even gives her an address.
Ariane is shocked to find out that the address is indeed real and that
is the house of an old acquaintance, Isabella, a violin teacher.
Camille calmly tells her that Isabella is her mother, and Ariane needs
to sit down: she has sporadic attacks of asthma.
Isabella is not home, but Isabella's middle-aged woman opens the door for
Camille. Camille walks straight to Isabella's bedroom, decorated with
pictures of a boy of Camille's age. The middle-aged woman tells her that
Isabella lost her child two years earlier. The woman speaks in a mysterious
tone, implying that Isabella and Ariane must have known each other better
than Ariane wants to admit.
On the way back home Ariane hears Camille talk to his imaginary friend
Alexandre. Then Camille tells his mother that from now on he'll call her
Ariane, not "mom". Isabella sends Ariane a telegram inviting her to a meeting.
Camille has read the telegram first and tells his mother Ariane that
this is a big day, calling Isabella his mom. Ariane doesn't have time
to continue the conversation because her brother Serge barges in,
mad that Camille keeps playing with his childhood's toys.
Ariane has more than asthma: every now and then she closes her eyes and
her mind drifts away.
When they visit her, Isabella hugs Camille like her own son and Camille
calls her "mom" while calling his mom "Ariane" and introducing her to
Isabella as a friend who helped him find his way back home.
Isabella tells Ariane how her son Paul drowned in front of her eyes,
but at the same time goes along with Camille's story.
Camille obviously knows the apartment well (presumably his parents neglected
him so much that they didn't realize he was spending a lot of time with
Isabella knows that her son Paul died but apparently is happy to believe that
Camille is a reincarnation of sorts.
Camille wants Ariane to stay, and Isabella offers her a couch (apparently
she is not worried about Helene not finding them at home), while Camille
sleeps in Isabella's bed. In the morning Ariane is treated like a guest by
Isabella and Camille. Ariane talks Isabella into visiting her home.
While Camille is giving Isabella a tour of the house,
Ariane calls her brother Serge, a psychiatrist, for help with this odd
While Serge works on Camille (who insists that his name is Paul),
Ariane scolds Helene for being introverted and playing with her (Ariane's) dolls.
Helene meanwhile is playing dice and consistently getting a very rare seven.
Ariane turns all the statues of her study towards a drawing representing
"The Judgment Of Solomon", which is about two mothers claiming
the same baby.
Camille/Paul runs away and Ariane is terrified that Isabella might steal him
from her. When Serge and Isabella return with the child, Ariane, suffering
another asthma attack, begs her to move in with them, so that she won't have
to fear that Camille will follow her. Now Ariane befriends the stranger and
explains that her job is theater designer (hence all the statues and
drawings). Isabella moves in with them.
A lawyer advises Ariane and Serge that there is no legal case, because Camille
has not been kidnapped.
Over dinner Serge notices that Ariane has placed the "The Judgment Of Solomon"
very visible. At night Isabella tries to seduce Serge, and hints that
she thinks Paul is not dead and that she's looking for a father for her son.
Serge kicks her out. She is playing psychology with the psychologist.
While he takes Camille for a ride,
Serge has his secretary Martine drive Isabella to his
mental asylum and then basically locks her up against her will.
Ariane tries to talk to Camille but he is angry that his "mom" (Isabella)
has been taken away. Ariane starts crying and Camille, who was playing
again with his camcorder, walks around her filming her crying and
amusing his imaginary friend Alexandre.
Then Camille disappears at the same time that
Isabella escapes from the madhouse.
Serge notices that someone tore the Solomon drawing.
Ariane finds an excuse to visit Isabella's apartment again, escorted by the
middle-aged neighbor who always speaks in riddles (as if Ariane was the one
who needs a psychologist, not Isabella). Ariane finds her brother
Serge's toys in Isabella's apartment.
Ariane speaks to her about Camille in the past tense.
Ariane returns home and there is still no trace of Camille.
On the other hand, Camille's imaginary friend Alexandre materializes
playing the piano in the living room and she has a long chat with him.
Alexandre leaves her a bag full of videocassettes. Ariane and Helene plays
them and see how Camille first met Isabella.
Helene swears that she never left Camille alone for more than ten minutes.
The videocassettes show Camille on a barge with Isabella and a man.
The boy insists that his name is Camille but they call him Paul.
The situation is reversed: Camille tells Isabella that she is not her mom.
Camille is terrified because he once fell into the water... but did not die.
Ariane senses that Camille is probably on the barge.
She finds Isabella and Camille on the barge and Camille calls her "mom".
He tells her that he needs to rush home because he has an important meeting
with Alexandre. Isabella calmy surrenders and admits defeat, smiling.
Ariane and Camille resume their ordinary life at home.
A friend has died in a car accident and Ariane is trying to phone his wife.
Ariane keeps watching the videocassettes that her son made with the camcorder.
One shows the child following Isabella and Isabella trying to get rid of him:
it was Camille who started following Isabella, and wanted her to become his
mom, not viceversa.
Ariane's husband Pierre calls from the airport. Ariane tells him that something
terrible happened: their friend died in the car accident. She doesn't mention
nothing of the story with Isabella.
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,
the visual mastery that one usually associates with Ruiz's filmmaking.
The film begins with an introduction to the film in which the authorities
officially inaugurate the filming and the director explains that this film
will consist of nine stories combined so as to yield 12 films:
a 20-year-old theology student in the 19th century has a religious crisis;
a thief steals a magic mirror;
a painting has supernatural powers but also radiates eroticism;
22 rings and a Maltese cross bestow the owner with supernatural powers;
twin brothers, both theologians, discuss philosophy;
two pirate ghosts search for a treasure that they left behind
two centuries earlier;
a student browses a blog that talks about his own life;
two lovers who never met in person dream of each other every night;
a devout Catholic discovers that he is actually a Jew after
his father is kidnapped by three thugs.
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
A hand touches a Middle-eastern painting of two women and they come
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Livia is a simple young woman, a poet at heart, who smiles at life, but she
is a bit insane. She sits, alone, on a bench in the mist when a man on a
bicycle approaches her. She tells him that "tomorrow" is going to be the
day of her life: it's written in the runes. A group of patients
from the nearby mental institution comes out of the mist and passes them:
one of them stares at her for a while. Livia asks the stranger to lick
her leg, then a car picks her up. The driver is the faithful servant of
her family. He drives her to their villa, where six characters are waiting
for Livia on the steps, as if they are plotting against her. They are
getting together to celebrate the birthday of the patriarch, Mr Harald,
who cannot attend because he is on a plane. His lover Leone is taking charge.
Assembled are their friends Hubus (who is ill), Bernardette, and Livia's
brothers Roland and Luc.
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
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
The military convoy continues its march passing the long line of school
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 aging Federico meets his old friend Luis at a restaurant.
First there are people around them, then they are alone, then there are people
The two old men talk as if they were both dead, or they are simply senile
and can't see the border between life and death anymore.
When a young man says hi to Federico and reminds Federico that his father
died a long time ago, Federico asks him to say hi to his (dead) father.
Federico has been writing a novel for many years and everybody knows.
His other hobby is collecting matches and letting them grow.
This sounds insane until the restaurant's owner tells him that he has to move
his matches because they obstruct traffic...
Federico and Luis watch from the balcony the people carrying the matches away
as if it were a military parade.
After this comic interlude, the film is mostly a story of the middle-aged
Federico (roughly 30 years earlier), one long flashback set in his
The two old men rarely interfere (in square parentheses below)
However, this "flashback" begins with the
middle-aged Federico waking up from a dream of being old and poor and of
never having finished his novel (which could have a mirror interpretation,
that the two old men only exist in his recurring dream).
The aging Paulita is his devoted housekeeper. Her son left a long time before
and lives in a northern city. He sends two letters a month that Federico reads
aloud to the illiterate Paulita. One day the people of the house are excited
and upset because outside they can see the ghost of Payo, who was executed
for having killed a man and wanders in pain.
[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
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.
The mentally handicapped Paulino and his mother Rosalba live in a country
home. One day Paulino hears a voice begging for alcohol. Rosalba rules out
the spirit who live with them. This is somebody new.
Paulino finds the bone of a person and uses it as a flute.
Rosalba is outraged, takes the bone and decides to give it a proper burial.
A stranger shows up at the house and she offers him soup.
He's been drawn there by the reputation of the centennarians who live
in the region. The stranger knows about the bone and tells them that it
belongs to someone who died with that last wish (alcohol).
This stranger removes his hat to show that he has horns on his forehead: he
is a devil named Aliro. He can
talk a mysterious language to the simpleton Paulino.
She prays the Virgin Mary and he grunts.
Aliro wants to buy some of the banners that Rosalba makes.
Aliro tells Rosalba the story of how he became a devil thanks to his friend
Chihuin, and then buys some of her banners.
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
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
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
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.
The story is a flashback told while an old man, William, is dining with a woman and overhearing what others are gossiping about him. William, a gambler,
won a house at a card game. He and his neurotic wife Anne-Marie moved in but the house was populated with eccentrics who refuse to leave and who are attached to a dead woman, Leonore, who soon starts stalking the couple.
A Closed Book/ Blind Revenge (2010) is a mediocre adaptation of
Gilbert Adair's mediocre 1999 novel.
A famous art critic, Paul, who was blinded in an accident,
hires Jane to help him with his writing.
Jane starts torturing him psychologically, taking advantage of the fact that
he cannot see what she does.
Eventually, Paul realizes that she is even trying to kill him and confronts her.
It turns out that he had caused her husband's ruin with one of his articles
and she is out to avenge her husband. She locks him in a closet and leaves the
house. When, remorseful, she returns to the house, she finds Paul armed. But
he confesses that he is a pedophile and asks Jane to kill him.
She leaves and he kills himself.
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.
Joao is a melancholy introverted boy who lives with other boys in an
orphanage run by the Church.
He has no last name because he has no known parents. The other
children bully him. He has an epileptic seizure and dreams his parents.
While recovering in bed, Father Dinis who is also his teacher tells him about
the child who bullied him,
Antonio, whose father is in prison for stealing a horse.
Later a countess, Angela, comes to visit him. She calls him "son" and caresses his
face like a mother would, but the priest, Dinis,
refuses to admit she's his mother.
She leaves him a present: a
a theater diorama.
For the rest of the film this toy puppet theatre interrupts the story to
introduce and foretell the next segment.
Besides the visual aspect, Ruiz also employs meta-narrative tricks in the
plot itself. By the end, there are at least three valid hypotheses on what
this film was: the dream of a dying man, a fiction concocted by the
priest for an orphaned child, or a fairy tale imagined by an introverted
kid as he plays with his theater diorama,
the characters being the puppets of this theater.
Whatever the cause,
the first-person narrative of the protagonist becomes the trunk from which
several substories branch out, each one a mystery revealed.
By the end, the original narrator has simply become
a supporting character in the biographies of many other people.
As it is often the case with multi-part films, the best part is the first one
and then it is all downhill from there, with long segments of the rest being
indulgent at best, and the plot becoming less and less plausible.
The pace that was stately becomes slow, and we progressively lose interest
in the convoluted explanations of the most unlikely coincidences.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
A panorama of the coast.
A French teacher is explaining that a translation of a French text is wrong to students who keep their eyes closed and an old man among them with an alarm clock in his pocket that goes off when he has to take his pill.
The Frenchman later walks out with the old man who congratulates him that the novel
"Le Hussard sur le Toit/ The Horseman on the Roof" by
Jean Giono has been published in an excellent translation.
The Frenchman asks "why me?" and the teacher replies "You are Giono", and the
Frenchman remarks that sometimes he thinks he is.
They have a philosophical discussion about the passing of time.
Celso remarks that time is like a game of marbles.
The old man, Don Celso, goes to his office and sits, absent-minded.
His boss warns him that he is losing his mind.
We learn that it is wednesday and Celso is going to enter retirement on monday.
The boss predicts that Celso will be alone.
We hear the secretary sobbing.
Then we see Celso as a child, nicknamed "Rhododendron", speaking to Long John Silver,
the pirate in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel "Treasure Island".
The pirate asks him to close his eyes in order to see the pirate's ship.
The child does so but realizes that he is simply seeing a ship from a recent movie.
Then we see Celso and Giono playing domino in a cafe.
Celso looks at the people behind the counter and mutters
"Peoples' faces are like a landscape after an earthquake."
His alarm clock goes off. Celso pulls it out of his pocket but
the alarm clock slides away on the tabletop.
Giono tells Celso that he once met someone like him, the playwright
Arthur Adamov (theater of the absurd), who committed suicide,
and then they discuss death.
They return to Celso's allegory that time is like a game of marbles, but Giono
adds that the marbles are all different in size.
Giono and Celso go to the barbershop. Celso tells Giono that he does nothing at the office, he simply waits. Giono asks "What are you waiting for?" and
Celso replies: "For the man who's going to kill me".
Giono asks Celso who is his role model and we see Celso the child answer
the same question asked by a friend. It's Beethoven. And the child soon meets
Beethoven (dressed in a costume of his era). The child describes the neighborhood to Beethoven and tells him that he wants to be a doctor and a musician when he grows up.
Beethoven advises the child to stick with medicine because musicians starve to death. Then Beethoven pulls out a conductor's baton and conducts an imaginary
orchestra in one of his symphonies until a friend interrupts the child's daydream.
We then see old Celso speaking on the air in a radio station in front of a live audience.
He is reading from a few sheets of paper and stops to ask for a lamp.
He relates a confused story: while
an orchestra was beginning the second movement of Beethoven's fifth symphonu,
in Celso's hometown a football match was underway
between bachelors and married men. The flashback shows Celso the child
and Beethoven invading the football field, seen only by Celso.
The match ends and two of the players engage in a political discussion.
One is a supporter of dictators, notably of Hitler (who has just been defeated
by the USA).
The child explains to his music teacher Bitis the difference between Thomas Aquinas, the philosopher, and Thomas, Jesus' apostle.
While the football match resumes, a bus unloads people who have come for
a religious procession through town.
Old Celso describes the procession on the radio while we see the flashback of it
and child Celso is walking with Beethoven. The child explains to Beethoven what a battery does, how it propels a lot of electrical machines.
Beethoven is puzzled by the idea that machines are taking over.
The child walks into a restaurant and meets a friend of his father who is causing scandal by insulting Jesus.
Later the child goes to the movies with a friend. He sees Beethoven in the hall and invites him to experience cinema, a modern invention.
It's a Hollywood movie in English, in fact more than one.
The child and his friend walk back to the restaurant but there's nobody.
They hear that Ibanez has been elected president (so it must be 1952).
The child then walks to the house of the math teacher Belmar.
The child is obviously a good student: he knows all the answers.
While he is waiting for Belmar, he is interrogated by an old man about the
history, music and science.
The child Celso is desperate that Belmar gave him a low grade in math but Belmar
doesn't change his mind.
Back home his father is angry about the low grade and wants to whip him.
The child runs and climbs on a tree. Granpa comes to help.
The child is resentful that he studied so hard and still gets punished.
His father relents but the child refuses to eat in the house and chooses to
eat with the chickens. He listens to the news on the radio of some children
who died in the snow.
Back to the present the old Celso is visited by the fortune teller Nigilda
who reads in the cards that someone is going to die.
We see the child Celso chatting with Long John Silver about the death of
his father: now we get a different version, that his father killed his mother
and was then killed himself, all of this before Celso was born, and all of
this because of the child's brother who had two heads.
Back to the present, Nigilda receives the visit of a young man whom she
introduces to Celso as her "nephew" Rolo Pedro,
but he sees them kiss like lovers. Celso invites Rolo Pedro to
play marbles with him but they are interrupted by an earthquake.
Nigilda leads Celso to another room, he asks her if Rolo Pedro is
the one who is coming to kill him, she laughs and says that her "nephew" is just a poet and that he has come to hide, and Celso goes for a walk.
A sexy woman appears behind Rolo Pedro and then disappears.
Nigilda returns to her "nephew" and kisses him passionately.
Rolo Pedro mentions that it won't be easy to kill Celso.
Suddenly there's an old man on the couch and the sexy woman is staring at the lovers from another room.
She's on a bicycle and rings the bell to get their attention.
Nigilda introduces her to Rolo Pedro as Rosina, a cabaret dancer;
and the old man on the couch is someone who never speaks.
We now realize that Celso and these other people
are all tenants in Nigilda's boarding house.
Meanwhile, Celso meets with a cop, Figueroa, who shows him a gun.
Celso thinks that is the gun that is going to kill him, and informs
Figueroa that the killer has arrived.
Figueroa replies that the killer is the one who is going to be killed, by him.
Celso begs him not to do it.
At another table Rolo Pedro is meeting with the sexy Rosina.
She speaks like a sincere lover. She tells him that she memorizes his letters
and then burns them with a lense. He remarks that this way there will be no
proof of what is going to happen.
Rolo Pedro tells Rosina that he was surprised to find out that Nigilda has
a pensioner, Celso, who has received some money and who will be so easy to kill.
She picks monday as the day. Rolo Pedro is surprised that Celso already knew
that he was coming to kill him, but Rosina tells Rolo Pedro that Celso says
the same thing to every stranger. This time it is true.
And they plan to flee together.
We see that they are sitting not far from Celso and Figueroa.
Then we see Figueroa in a bedroom with Rosina, having just paid her, discussing
his gun. Figueroa hears the voice of his commander while the earthquake strikes again.
We then see Celso back in his office, chatting with his boss.
Celso says that he takes walks mainly to look for words, and recently he found one that he really likes: "rhododendron".
His secretary keeps asking him for a four-word letter and he keeps suggesting some. The secretary shows up at him place and, after admiring his collection of miniature ships, she kisses him platonically and realizes that "kiss" is the word that she was looking for.
We see the child Celso telling Long John Silver that he lives with his uncle, but the uncle was mad and just hanged himelf, and so he's being sent to a boarding school.
Back to the present, the coworkers attend a farewell dinner for Celso.
His boss gives a speech that ends with wishing him a "good journey".
Then it's Celso's turn to give a speech. He says that a ship is carrying him
and the ship's name is "Rhododendron", the name of his assassin.
The boss gives him a farewell present: a giant head that Celso carries home in
Now we are back to Giono's lessons. Giono is teaching a Mallarme' poem and
explains that Mallarme' was similar to Celso, who is sitting in the middle
of the classroom. Then Mallarme's alarm goes off.
Giono and Celso have coffee and Giono confesses that he is not sure of being there. His family is in another city and Giono is perhaps with them, not with Celso, because after all someone must be writing all the books that get credited to Giono.
Celso has a dream in which a man on a bicycle keeps circling around him and asking him about new buildings that Celso doesn't see but are actually popping up eveverywhere.
He wakes up when someone rings the doorbell and knocks at the door.
It's Figueroa asking about Rolo Pedro.
Celso replies that he's waiting for Rolo to kill him, like every day.
When Celso asks Figueroa what he intends to do, Figueroa replies
asking what is it that people call "doing".
Figueroa leaves and Celso hears gunshots.
The man who never speaks comes out of his room carrying all his luggage,
leaves some money on the table and walks out.
Nigilda comes to count the money. She talks about love with Celso.
Celso thinks she is lucky to have had so many lovers. Nigilda thinks that
love is a curse.
Nigilda tells him that on that evening all mirrors show what they want to show. She takes him in front of a mirror and we see that Rosina and Rolo lie dead on the couches.
Celso stares in the mirror but doesn't see anything.
When they walk away, the camera shows us also a third dead body, lying on the floor: Figueroa, with a gun in his hand. And there are two more dead bodies behind him.
All the tenants of Nigilda's boarding house are dead.
Now we see Long John Silver, the pirate of his childhood's imagination,
in old Celso's room, asking to dwell inside one of his miniature ships,
and telling him that Nigilda has been shot dead.
The pirate disappears and Rosina walks. And then Celso falls asleep.
We see a close-up of marbles on a beach, and then the coast of the first scene.
Then Celso walks with the cyclist in front of a wallpaper of the city and denies that anyone was ever killed in the cursed boarding house: they simply moved to the next world.
Then Celso is alone in Giono's classroom and calls Giono in vain.
All the desks have an alarm clock and they all start ringing at the same time.
Then Celso is speaking on the radio about Long John Silver.
We see child Celso chatting with Long John Silver and retelling the story
that Long John Silver told him: of a pensioner who died or was killed.
But the child can't remember exactly what happened in the story.
Then we see old Celso continuing the discussion with Long John Silver
and Celso is not sure if this truly happened or only seemed to happen.
Old Celso, alone, calls Rhododendron and the child Celso appears.
For the first time we see them together.
The child Celso has a gun and points it at old Celso's head.
Then we see the coast. Then we hear the gunshot and we see a hand drop
the gun on the floor. Then we see the young and old Celso walk towards
the hole of a giant gun. Old Celso, with the bleeding wound on his head,
walks inside the giant hole while child Celso remains outside.
The cyclist joins him on his bicycle.
Old Celso asks him about the radio station, but the cyclist tells him
that the radio has not been invented yet.
Inside the pistol there are other people: they are the memories of the
One of them is Rolo, bleeding from his gunwound in the chest.
Celso and Rolo decide to return to the boarding house
because that's where they are coming from.
They find Nigilda, Rosina and Figueroa, all three bleeding from their
mortal wounds, The three are staging a seance.
They get up and, followed by Celso and Rolo, walk into another room
where they find Long John Silver, Giono and Beethoven staging their own
They too get up and, followed by Celso, Rolo, Nigilda, Rosina and Figueroa,
enter another room where Celso's boss and coworkers are waiting.
The dead sit and listen.
The boss gives another farewell speech, centered around the importance
of the bullet, but he loses the train of his thoughts.
The young secretary then gives her own speech:
she proclaims her love for Celso.
They all intone a song for Celso, both the living and the dead.
Ruiz had already died in 2011.
The unfinished The Wandering Soap Opera (2019) was completed by
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