"Life Is a Dream: The Films of Raúl Ruiz"
A retrospective at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
"Ruiz was more devoted to process than product," writes J. Hoberman in the New York Times. "Having made more than 100 features, he seems less an auteur than an autonomous region, the creator of imaginary worlds, and worlds within worlds…. The two artists he most suggests are the philosophical fabulist Jorge Luis Borges and Edgar G. Ulmer, the pragmatic maker of bargain-basement sophisticated B-movies. His movies are loquacious and labyrinthine. 'We are surrounded by stories that are like houses that we can enter,' he once said. Extravagantly baroque in their camera placement, perversely literary in their references, at once droll and tedious, these surrealist shaggy dog tales don’t lend themselves to easy synopses or individual canonization."
"Ruiz, whose passion for and knowledge of international literature was almost certainly unmatched by his contemporaries, made films often willfully perverse in their impish manipulation of narrative logic," writes Tony Pipolo for Artforum. "Earnest adaptations of ambitious novels—e.g., Mysteries of Lisbon (2010), based on Camilo Castelo Branco’s 1854 Portuguese epic, and all seven volumes of Proust’s masterwork collapsed into Marcel Proust’s Time Regained (1999)—are offset by ingenious exercises in deconstruction like Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983) and City of Pirates (1983). But to insist that he prioritized upending conventions in the modernist spirit is to overlook his gifts as a fabulist and his relish for storytelling."
For Film Comment, Raquel Morais has a wide-ranging conversation with producer Paulo Branco about working with Ruiz, scoring raw film stock from Manoel de Oliveira, how Wim Wenders's The State of Things (1982) relates to the making of The Territory (1981), working with Cannon Films and much more. Three Lives and Only One Death (1996) "is a most curious film," says Branco, and "the same is true for Genealogies of a Crime . Genealogies is a very witty film, one of Raúl’s most accomplished works. And it did pretty well in terms of sales, it was his first public success: nearly 300,000 people watched it in France. The thing is, every time we did an orderly film, Ruiz would do a less orderly one right after. From time to time I had to offer him a project for him to do whatever he wanted. We worked with very small crews, not knowing exactly what we would do the next day—that was our deal."
Update: "It’s impossible to follow many of Raúl Ruiz’s films, and foolhardy even to try," writes Aaron Cutler at the top of his overview of the series for Brooklyn Magazine. "One would do better instead to flow with them, based as they are on mood and tone rather than on three-act structures. While the films in fact hold lots of plots, their storylines move not through binaries of conflict and resolution, but instead overlap with and recede from one another like calm, assured ocean waves. To watch and enjoy a Ruiz film involves feeling the pleasure of one’s own skull opening, treasure chest-like, for the imagination to spring outwards and feed upon its surroundings. In a 2005 talk, Ruiz stated his view of cinema as an ever-expanding, supernaturally guided universe in simple fashion: 'Yes, dear friends, the cinema is another life.'"
Update, 12/3: "Many have tried and failed miserably to describe just what it is that Ruiz does and to find an accurate point of comparison," writes Jon Auman at Screen Slate. "I can think of only one, the artist (and fellow filmmaker) Joseph Cornell. Cornell’s friend, the poet-critic Parker Tyler, described his work by saying that it 'cathedralizes the thought too silly to mention and returns lost articles of the imagination.' I can think of no better description for Ruiz himself."
Update, 12/8: Jaime Grijalba for Brooklyn Magazine on Bérénice (1983): "The first act of this 'straight' adaptation of the play by Jean Racine is one of the most gorgeous sequences in the history of cinema and my choice for the best twenty minutes that Ruiz ever filmed."
Updates, 12/11: "Like Welles," writes Ethan Spigland for Film Comment, "Ruiz was a master at shaping his fictions around the conditions at hand. He shot City of Pirates (1983) in three weeks, writing the script day by day, and made a second feature, Vanishing Point (1984), during the same time period. Astonishingly, he continued to make film after film in this fashion, seemingly unconcerned about whether or not they would reach an audience or a screen…. He believed that working quickly and incessantly freed him to make the films he might not have dared to make otherwise—that is, if he became too precious about each project or too concerned about a particular film’s reception. Ruiz conceived of film as something necessarily fragmented and incomplete, a ruin. Consequently, he was more concerned with the process of making films than with polished, finished works."
"In Raúl Ruiz’s 'philosophical exploitation movie,' The Territory (1981), social order reveals itself to be little more than a crown over a decayed tooth—an effective shield that is suitable until it cracks." Brittany Stigler at Screen Slate: "Co-written by Gilbert Adair and based partly on a true story, Ruiz’s surreal tale of ecological and psychological terror is as grotesque as it is mesmerizing."
Update, 12/14: For the New Yorker's Richard Brody, the series' "grandest revelation is Time Regained (Dec. 19), his sumptuous 1999 adaptation of the greatest modern French literary work, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time…. Ruiz turns the play of the author’s memory into a primordial Surrealism by way of bold visual analogies and sonic associations akin to rhymes…. But Time Regained is also a triumph of classical cinematic values, reviving Proust’s era with an obsessive attention to detail."
Updates, 12/15: For Grasshopper Film, Joaquim Pinto looks back on working with Ruiz: "One day, while shooting Vanishing Point, we invented a story. We told Ruiz that in fact he wasn’t the fastest director on the planet; Fassbinder had shot 100 elaborate and different scenes in a single day and no one has been able to match it. The next day, we started early and went late into the evening; after the 101st scene, we all celebrated with a toast."
"Among the earlier titles Ruiz made in [France], The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1978; screening December 15) wryly combines connoisseurship and demon-worshipping cults," writes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "A senescent art collector (Jean Rougeul) roams through and comments on various tableaux vivants, canvases-come-to-life that illustrate abstruse conspiracy theories dilated on by this elderly amateur historian and the off-screen narrator. The works, by a little-known 19th-century academic painter, Ruiz's sleuths suggest, point to scandals erupting at the time of their creation, including pagan idolatry and human sacrifice. But after having spent an hour expounding on his conjectures, the collector delivers this imperative: 'Let us forget. Let us allow the paintings to vanish.' The conclusion is typical Ruizian mischief, in which interpretation and the imposition of meaning are a fool's errand."
Update, 1/8: Writing for the New York Review of Books, Adam Thirlwell suggests that Raúl Ruiz’s "career can be understood as a sustained resistance, a manic guerrilla operation, against two forms of power: the violence of Pinochet’s dictatorship, and the control on conventional movie-making exerted by Hollywood. He is the exile director: a Latin American who made most of his movies in English, French, or Portuguese—and whose aesthetic inhabits an absolute alien territory. His films are drifting, fantastical, introspective, melancholy, erudite, raucous—sometimes telling no story at all, sometimes telling too many. He made so many films, and they so consistently refuse to obey whatever formal rules we’ve come to expect from cinema, that they tend to develop into a blurry whole in your mind. Ruiz’s films form a climate more than a series of individual works."