Ruiz made a series of films in the mid-1980’s involving sailors, pirates, children, islands, treasure and magic. There’s an explicit Treasure Island reference in Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983), and in between the similarly-themed City of Pirates and Manuel on the Island of Wonders, he made the movie Treasure Island, and wrote a book called In Search of Treasure Island.

As I learned from The Golden Boat, I’m not a big fan of Ruiz’s English-language films (actually Klimt was good). Treasure Island is full of fascinating work, especially when the plot comes together at the end, but while watching all I can think of are the language problems. Most actors (not Martin Landau or Anna Karina) are badly dubbed. Dialogue is imperfectly translated and conveyed, and performance styles are inconsisent – I tried to overlook it, but it’s too clunky to ignore. Little things make me think Ruiz wasn’t at the dubbing sessions (paella is pronounced “pai-YELL-ah”). And it’s cool that Jean-Pierre Leaud was cast, but distracting to hear him speak with no trace of French accent.

Ruiz’s Treasure Island isn’t an adaptation of the novel… not exactly, anyway. After a while it starts to follow the story when young Jonathan’s father dies while his seaside home is being visited by Landau (who asks to be called The Captain), then after Jonathan runs off he’s picked up by a sailing shoe salesman named Silver.

Some mutinies and mercenaries later, it comes out that this is an annual reenactment LARP, performed with a different Jim Hawkins every time. Captain Silver is the professor who invented the game, an “expert on game theory” (maybe not coincidence: when Silver gave his real name I wrote it as Omar Amiralay, which is also the name of a Syrian filmmaker who was active at the time). Jim/Jonathan sees through the ruse when he realizes during a gun battle that the fighting is fake, so he goes off alone, commandeering the ship with only Israel Hands (who soon dies) aboard. I start to lose track of the characters as the roles shift (The Dead Father returns as the ship’s doctor, for instance) – shades of the re-enactment identity-blending of The Territory. Even the narrator, who we assumed all along to be Jim/Jonathan, is revealed to be another character, who kills J/J offscreen at the end.

Jim and Helen:

Martin Landau, who dies, comes back to life, declares Jim is his son during an earthquake, and jumps out a window:

It’s fun to analyze the movie afterwards, to go through the screen shots and read reviews – maybe a less painfully-dubbed version exists in another country and will come out someday (argh, a restored print played Paris last month – the poor dubbing remains, and the movie has lost 15 minutes). Anna Karina is very good as J/J’s mom, anyway.

Karina and Helen:

Don’t think I got all the characters straight. Multiple possible captains – besides Landau we’ve got Silver (Vic Tayback of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore), the French Captain (Yves Afonso, who appeared with Karina and Leaud in Made In USA), and Mr. Mendoza (Pedro Armendariz Jr. of Walker in a Yankees hat). Mendoza is obsessed with a different ship-mutiny novel, Benito Cereno by Herman Melville. There’s the doctor / Dead Father (Lou Castel, Bruno Ganz’s driver in The American Friend) and J/J’s aunt Helen (singer Sheila). Crabb (Michel Ferber) imprisons J/J, Ben Gunn shoots diamonds from a slingshot. That leaves Israel Hands (Jean-Francois Stévenin, the immortal Max in Le Pont du Nord), Squire Tim Moretti (Jeffrey Kime, the doomed Jim in The Territory), and back on shore before the adventure began, Leaud as a writer (and possibly the narrator), and the creepy Blind Man (Charles Schmitt). Jim/Jonathan himself is regular Ruiz star Melvil Poupaud, returning from City of Pirates.

The island scenes (second half of the movie) were filmed on the coast of Senegal, where Katy is now.

Back on land, The Blind Man with Karina:

Played in Cannes in 1991 alongside Yumeji, Boyz n the Hood, Hearts of Darkness, and three African films. Rumor is that Chris Marker assisted Ruiz in some way. A four-hour cut was planned, but I don’t think it was completed (nobody claims to have seen it).

Ruiz in conversation with J. Rosenbaum:

Treasure Island was a complete misunderstanding, because the money was there at the beginning and then suddenly the money was gone [not there anymore]. So I had to reduce the budget, and do it like a kind of B movie. This movie starts very strangely, with a good atmosphere, and then suddenly we are in a typical TV serial, because it was shot in continuity, so you can see the point at which the money starts to vanish.

From Michael Goddard’s book:

As [the film’s introductory] television transmission is interrupted by a power cut, we are informed that its tale of a coup d’etat, diamonds and treachery continued in Jim’s head. In other words while we may be aware that stories originate elsewhere and come to us from the outside it is we who continue them as they take possession of our imaginations; so before even introducing any of the elements of Treasure Island, the key theme of possession by prior stories that make up not only Ruiz’s film but in a more implicit way the original novel itself is already established.

As in the cartographic game in Zig-Zag this is a game played in real spaces with real lives and deaths but it is no less fictional than the novel on which it is based, while the latter is increasingly read not as fiction but rather as an instruction manual for how to operate successfully in the Treasure Island game.

JW McCormack:

For one thing, the pirates don’t look much like pirates, more like guerillas, revolutionaries. Jim’s friends the Doctor and the Squire appear without much fanfare. Other characters, like participatory academic Aunt Helen, are without an analogue in the book. The Oedipal strains of the Disney version have gone haywire, as everybody claims to be Jim’s father and nobody seems terribly concerned with treasure. But as Jim says — or, rather, as Jean-Pierre Léaud says, since we learn three quarters of the way through that he has literally run away with the script and has been telling the story from Jim’s point of view — “I didn’t see why we couldn’t just carry on without the treasure. It was an adventure anyway.”

But alas, no reconstruction is perfect: in perhaps the funniest joke in the movie, Silver, disappointed that the action has fallen so far from the book, echoes the sentiments of any reader who has ever been outraged by a movie straying from its source: he fires a machine gun into the air while shouting “It was not written! It was not written!”

Ruiz interviewed by D. Ehrenstein:

When I reread Treasure Island recently I discovered that the structure was stronger than the material. The way Stevenson tells the story is so remarkable that it could be about anything – pirates, kidnappers, whatever. We are surrounded by stories that are like houses we can enter. We play amidst these stories, sometimes being involved in two or three of them at once. In one you’re the hero, in another you’re a secondary character. These scripts are the society in which we live – if you want to be a sociologist. It’s a notion I feel more and more. This has been expressed in many ways – by Stevenson, by Orson Welles, Borges, and many others – this notion that certain stories have the structure of dreams. For those stories it’s as if the cinema had already been invented.

“Too much culture leads to barbarism and hinders development.”

One of those Ruiz movies like The Blind Owl and Manuel on the Island of Wonders, where it’s hard enough to make sense of the movie, but my low-res video copy makes it even harder. So this will have to count as a preview screening before Criterion inevitably announces their 12-disc blu-ray set of 1980’s Ruiz films. I just made myself unreasonably excited typing that sentence.

Anyway, like those two movies and City of Pirates, Ruiz blends psychology and imagery and politics and sarcasm in unlikely ways, creating a film that can be explained (as I attempt below) in narrative terms, but the story isn’t really the point.

Narcisso (Fernando Bordeu, Virgil in Ruiz’s A TV Dante) is a commie millionaire who invites a couple of sociologists (Luis: Jean Badin, who had small roles in Genealogies of a Crime and Three Crowns of the Sailor, and Eva: Willeke van Ammelrooy of elevator-based horror The Lift) to his house to study Adam and Eden, the two surviving members of a tribe with a complex and ever-changing language. Yes, the movie has characters named Adam, Eve AND Eden. But like Blind Owl and City of Pirates, the story is mainly a framework for Ruiz to pepper us with imagery (shadows and double exposures and massive red tinting), experiment with structure and language, and confound his own characters.

Luis (left) and Narcisso, with Adam and Eden in the background:

Ruiz’s and cinematographer Henri Alekan’s follow-up to The Territory. Lot of business involving mirrors (obvs, with a character named Narcisso). Mentions of offscreen wars. Characters tell stumbling stories, read lists and transcripts, boring the other characters (shades of the sleepy Stolen Painting narrator). Colonialism humor, language gags, references to similarly playful texts (I was proud of myself for recognizing dialogue from Calvino’s Invisible Cities). I think in the end, Eva and Narcisso end up together, Luis commits suicide, and Eva’s son becomes pregnant.

“7th May. Each month Adam and Eden exchange names.”

Q: “Are proletarians always strange?”
A: “Too much exploitation has made them strange. The pain has turned them insane.”
Q: “Do all proletarians of the world unite because the pain has made them insane?”
A: “No, that’s something else.”

Page 70 of the Michael Goddard book has an interesting bit on “accented cinema” which seems too long to transcribe here.

Rosenbaum:

This is one of Ruiz’s best collaborations with Chilean composer Jorge Arriagada — as much a mainstay in his work as Bernard Herrmann was for a spell in Hitchcock’s — whose scores specialize in furnishing lush, atmospheric Hollywood climaxes, often without any apparent dramatic motivation.

I read in the Ruiz book that Wim Wenders movie The State of Things was inspired by witnessing Ruiz’s difficulty making The Territory, having to stop production because they’d run out of film stock, and that Wenders borrowed The Territory’s cast and crew, so I knew I had a perfect double-feature.

Based on a true-ish story, The Territory follows lost campers who resorted to weird religious-fanatic cannibalism. Ruiz doesn’t seem like a based-on-a-true-story kind of director. Ruiz seems to agree: “When we finished, we realised it was an art film.” M. Goddard: “…clearly Ruiz was hoping that the film would also succeed in suspending the distinctions between commercial and artistic cinema, by being at once a Roger Corman exploitation film and a philosophical parable about the origins of human society.”

Some of the behavior and dialogue is what you could call realistic (though the dubbing is not), but the overall atmosphere has a surreal edge. For instance, the way the campers always end up traveling in circles when they insist they’re going straight seems more out of The Blair Witch Project than historical fiction.

Their wild-haired guide Gilbert (Paul Getty Jr.) acts unhinged from the start, cares little for the campers, just for the journey and the strict rules of the forest. He finally leaves them, but they find his dead body while wandering and drag him around for a while before deciding to eat him.

Early bit of Ruiz weirdness, Gilbert slowly rises while speaking:

French girl Francoise (Isabelle Weingarten, star of Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer), mother of young Ron, is disgusted by meat eating in general, so doesn’t join in the feast – and becomes the next victim.

Francoise, shot by Henri Alekan (before La Belle Captive):

Later a crazy stick fight, Peter (Geoffrey Carey of Kings & Queen) attacking Jim (Jeffrey Kime, later in Ruiz’s Treasure Island) while screaming “what should I do, Barbara,” presumably about to kill Jim when Peter has a heart attack instead. Randomly at the end, a guy they’d previously passed in the forest and never noticed shows up again, kills Jim with a rock and is rescued along with Barbara and Ron.

from Michael Goddard’s great The Cinema of Raul Ruiz: Impossible Cartographies:

A key moment comes when they encounter a map of the park in which its nature as an impossible labyrinth is made clear; the map inverts, in a series of concentric figures, the park’s situation of being within the province, within the country, and within Europe, so that the park contains first the province, then the country and finally Europe, a clear example of a Ruizian impossible cartography.

Another key example comes when they encounter two men having a picnic of bread and cheese at an abandoned dam. While at first seizing upon this as their salvation, the characters soon discover that it is useless to try to talk to these men as they not only lack a common language but the men seem to be inhabiting a different space; certainly they seem unable to comprehend in any way the ‘plight’ of the trapped tourists and are no more useful when questioned later in the house of their friend by those searching for the missing visitors.

One of the two men on the dam is João Bénard da Costa, also in Past and Present. He’s filmed with a table of food in the foreground, just like he is in City of Pirates.

Survivors:

Adrian Martin:

The human body is the true territory of the film, its borders and functions ambiguously defined in relation to acts of eating, violence and sexuality. It ends in the type of sardonic twist we find frequently in Ruiz’s films: after the horror, one of the characters writes it all down and scores a best seller.

I was about to start reading my Ruiz book, so I watched this first to feel more current. But it’s near-impossible to feel current with the prolific Ruiz, especially when the book opens in Chile two decades before the earliest of his features I’ve seen (Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting).

There’s much mirroring and many strange relationships in this one. Catherine Deneuve is a lawyer defending a boy her just-deceased son’s age for killing his aunt (her own age). Two bizarre and conflicting psychoanalytic societies are interested in the case – one run by mustachey Christian (Andrzej Seweryn, house butler in You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet), an associate of the dead aunt, and the other by his erratic-acting “official enemy” Georges (Michel Piccoli, a couple years after Simon Cinema).

Defendant Rene is Melvil Poupaud, a Ruiz regular who got his start as the murderous little boy in City of Pirates. Catherine’s first strategy is to interview him, but she doesn’t get straight answers. Rene plays a game with Catherine that he played with his aunt, where they switch places, speaking as each other, interrupting with a “beep” if the other person gets them wrong. Rene’s aunt kept a diary about him with shades of Through a Glass Darkly – “I’ll follow his development, his descent into hell.” So Catherine reads the diary at the aunt’s house (under supervision of Bernadette Lafont, pirate leader of Noroit and Sarah in Out 1), imagining the scenes described within with herself as the aunt.

All this leads to a tableau reenactment of historic crimes, posing members of the society according to a painting (callback to The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting), but Rene’s “girlfriend” (actually a hired actress) says it’s an excuse for orgies. Anyway, Catherine wins the case, Rene is free, and Piccoli’s entire society poisons themselves.

But it doesn’t end there. Catherine’s mother died earlier in the film, now her friend the judge dies – she spends lots of time nearly alone at the funeral home. Mustache guy Christian returns, takes her to his archives with Mathieu Amalric (one of Rene’s criminal friends from earlier), explains his theory (referenced in the film’s title) about crime being inherited through generations. “People assume stories happen to them. Actually, they are possessed by stories.”

“We thought you’d end up a murderess,” said Catherine’s mom early in the film. Free but possibly guilty, Rene stays at her house, becomes more and more demanding, takes over her life, until finally she stabs him (and all his friends) to death, ending up on trial herself.

Bizarre Ruizian touches along the way: at key moments, we’ll hear the sound of child laughter or distant applause. While someone is talking, sitting still, instead of a slow camera move, the person’s chair or the decor behind him will be slowly gliding. Piccoli’s character has major dandruff, a distracting detail in all his scenes. And a whole mother/daughter conversation in mom’s curio-filled house is shot from various spooky angles with the knick-knacks in the foreground and the people in the distance.

M. Le Cain:

Solange’s adventure essentially consists of her moving through the various perspectives on a murder case, assimilating and reliving the stories of the different characters as they die, like a giant snowball accumulating more and more snow as it rolls down a hill. Having become both victim and murderer – who were themselves both engaged in a dangerous game of identity swapping – she pronounces herself the ‘universal inheritor’ of all the film’s narratives.

“That’s the sickness that comes from thinking about film.”

Some notes I took:

He cuts up some woman and puts her body in a trunk. On a train, a man tells stories about a mysterious rider with a companion speaking to him from inside a small suitcase.
Mentions of Grenada and Marrakesh
Middle-east parody?
Communicating by dance
Protagonist tends to wail
The subtitled part is the movie our protag is watching
White-robe is the Sailor? from Three Crowns? Yes he is.
Very good string music, reminiscent of Three Crowns
Protag has no memories.

Some of this will be wrong, and much will be left out. I will happily watch the movie again, hopefully from some glorious high-res copy released in the future, not a fan-subtitled compressed file made from a two-decades-old beta videotape.

To start with, our guy gets a job at a movie theater. “The films we projected, I never knew who chose them, but I think that nothing that was shown was ever watched.” He and erratic coworker Kasim sleep in the projection booth, living there with Kasim’s girlfriend Fatima. Our guy meets an unknown uncle, then an unknown nephew, then goes on a journey (see note above about cutting up and trunking some poor woman).

Suddenly: “Here begins the story of Aba Yahyar ibn Abu Bakhra as recounted by Ibn Abas may it please Allah”. A riddle-spouting djinn sets a crazily fake-bearded young man searching for his crazy uncles, then he finds the “seven sleepers of ephesus” inside a giant mouth (flashback to the giant teeth in City of Pirates). Also, twin brothers (“the only thing that distinguished them was that one drank more water”) love the same woman. Took me a while to realize that all this is the film-within-the-film.

Bearded man seeks uncle:

Giant teeth:

Back in the projection booth, Fatima eats and drinks sound and images by grabbing them off the projector beam with her hand, and our guy gets into a bloody fight with Kasim. Back in the inner film, more uncles and twins starts to jumble together. “Thus I discovered I no longer needed to watch the film. Henceforth, it would be part of me. I would see it projected on the walls of my room, on the face of my nephew and on the sheets of my bed. I could discern it in a dog’s bark, a man’s groan or a bird’s song, all of them telling me one grand tale of my two fathers, my two uncles and my mother, the dancer.”

Sailor:

The Sailor says he collects the decapitated heads of thieves, shows off his heads and one removed eye to Rosalia (the inner film’s fascinating mystery woman). Back at the theater, our protagonist comes to some final realization (“I’ve never had any memories, and in the space of that day I had aged some fifty years”) and leaves the building, ghostlike.

From (the only) IMDB review:

So not a fiction film but about fiction, immortal stories without particular author or answer, that always seem to begin by their narrator with “I heard a story”…

Based partly on a Persian novel by Sadegh Hedayat. A plot summary of the 1975 film version sounds twisty and surreal, and almost nothing like the Ruiz version except that it involves a young man fixated on a memory of a glimpsed “ethereal” woman.

Hard to tell which actors played whom, but Jean-François Lapalus is the lead, and Jessica Forde (star of Rohmer’s Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle) was in there somewhere.

Maybe right here:

“It is at once an enormous joke and a cosmic, existential work on the human condition.” There’s little writing on this obscure Ruiz feature online, but Rouge has published an essential Luc Moullet piece.

It’s hard to say exactly what happens in this movie, but with its focus on sailors and murders, identity, riches and secret tasks with time limits, and the now-familiar (but still exciting) camera moves and framing tricks, bizarre storytelling and wordplay, it fits in well with City of Pirates and Manuel on the Island of Wonders.

Takes place on a single night (7/25/58, the day Thurston Moore was born) with flashbacks. A student kills his mentor, then meets a sailor on the street who offers the student a job on his ship in exchange for three Danish crowns. They sit in a mirrored lounge lit up like a carnival as the sailor tells his story.

Student and sailor:

In Valparaiso a compulsive liar called The Blindman offers people jobs on a ship that had already left town. The sailor finds the ship anyway and gets hired on, says farewell to his family (cameo by Diogo Doria of Non and Inquietude as his sister’s fiancee). He soon discovers that it’s a ship of the dead, but the movie doesn’t linger on this fact, as you normally would, just shows off certain details, like how his shipmates can suicide into the ocean then show up onboard the next day as if nothing had happened.

A murdered liar:

The sailor has no name – his mates call him The Other. At different ports he meets a prostitute, a French consul who tends to a brilliant underage doctor, a couple of thieves, a stripper, a man in Dakar (Mostefa Djadjam, director of Borders). These become his family, and when he wins big at cards, he buys a bar and sends for them all. Most are fine, but “the kid from Tampico had drowned. The black had died 10 years before we met.”

“She appeared in every glass I emptied”

“Those writers have already written your story. They spent their lives writing it,” a boy tells him, with a cutaway to RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

The sailor still needs the three crowns to settle a debt, which he gets from the student, who then beats him to death on the pier, apologizing all the way (“please excuse my slightly unusual reaction”). One or both of them ends up on the ship. “You always need a living sailor on a ship full of dead. That was me.”

imdb says” Based on the southern Chilean island of Chiloé’s myth of “Caleuche”, or The Ship of the Dead.

The sailor is Jean-Bernard Guillard of at least three more Ruiz movies. Shot by his Stolen Painting cinematographer Sacha Vierny, who also shot Resnais’s early films and would spend the next decade or so with Greenaway. 25 years later, Ruiz made another ghost-ship story called Litoral – there’s not much about it online.

Coincidentally, H. Ford just wrote an extensive article for Senses of Cinema:

By foregrounding narrative and the spinning of tales throughout, highlighted by the entertaining and wryly humourous voiceover in particular, Ruiz creates a story characterised by a lack of causal logic and that features the confounding of rational explanations, frequent absurdity and repetition.

When it comes to visual language, this film shows Ruiz at his zenith. And this despite – or because of – a very small budget, with the extensive visual effects apparently improvised using “found” materials (such as shooting through drinking and eye glasses) by the director and his magician-like cinematographer, Sacha Vierny… Nearly every shot in Three Crowns of the Sailor is a remarkable and often virtuosic construction that is somehow entirely familiar and right, all of a piece rather than eccentric or weird. The images masterfully utilise both soft or out-of-focus and frequent Citizen Kane-style deep focus shots in which objects in the foreground of the frame are treated with equal clarity as characters conversing much further back. The overall result is an increasingly delirious aesthetic brew that seems like it is the only possible choice for visualising this story and world.

Adding to its aesthetic interest is that no single shot appears to be repeated. As so often when clearly invested in a project, Ruiz makes you realise how visually uninventive most other directors’ work is.

Finally I got a hold of the director’s cut, which I’ve been looking for since reading about this movie somewhere five years ago. In the meantime I’ve discovered that I love most of Ruiz’s movies, but I don’t get much out of painter bio-pics, even artsy ones – so this was destined to be a mixed bag.

I’m not sure what happened, or who was supposed to be whom. I know John Malkovich plays the artist Klimt, and an appealingly manic Nikolai (son of Klaus) Kinski plays Egon Schiele. I know Klimt is visited by an embassy “secretary” (Stephen Dillane, Kidman/Woolf’s husband in The Hours) whom no one else can see. The rest becomes a blur of people and places, but an appealing blur, since Ruiz can’t make a boring film, not even with a prestige artist bio-pic in English (quite good English, translated by the writer of The Dreamers). The very fluid moving camera and framing device of a dying man in bed (Klimt, of syphillis towards the end of WWI) bring to mind Mysteries of Lisbon.

Egon Kinski:

Klimt seems to enjoy refractions and mirrors as much as Ruiz does. Klimt meets Georges Méliès around the turn of the century, sees him a couple times more, also meets the man who portrayed Klimt in a film – is intrigued with the girl named Lea who he “meets” in the film (Saffron Burrows of fellow painter-bio-pic Frida) and her own actress-double.

Either Lea or her double:

Appearing as characters I didn’t figure out: Joachim Bissmeier (Zimmermann in Joyeux Noel), Ernst Stotzner of Underground, and Annemarie Duringer of Veronika Voss and Berlin Alexanderplatz. It also didn’t help that there’s a woman named Midi and another named Mizzi.

B. Berning:

With Ruiz directing, philosophical inquiry is a not an end in itself, but a springboard for the imagination, and for humor. In one scene, there is a street brawl between men wearing top hats and men wearing bowler hats. By the next scene we see that the bowler hats have won, for there isn’t a top hat in sight. The upper class elitists have surrendered their influence, and the symbol of modern egalitarianism, the bowler hat, has taken over. It’s a clever visual riddle that in a way recalls the writer Lewis Carroll. Carroll was also a great imaginative thinker who preferred to clothe his intellect in stories that would amuse a young girl. Ruiz’s audience is decidedly adult, but he aims to entertain nonetheless.

The word I used most in my notes is “unusual.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“A tourist.”

I was planning to watch this anyway, but not as a memorial screening. Low-quality copy of this three-episode miniseries. You can see through the dubbed videotape murk and the MPEG blocks that much of the lighting and composition is probably wonderful (and the music score too good to be consigned to a lost TV-movie) – hope there will be an official release some day. This shows no compromise to the commercial requirements of television, just as twisty as the great City of Pirates, and similarly featuring featuring ships, pirate ghosts, islands, children, plot paradoxes and murder.

Part 1: Manoel’s Destinies

A narrator sets up the time-travel theme right away.
“I’m called ‘long ago.’ This story took place in the past, but I’m sure it will happen again soon. That’s why I chose to tell it to you in the present.”

Seven-year-old Manoel is on his way to school the morning after his family’s jewelry was stolen in the night, when he hears whispered voices, sidetracks into a courtyard and meets himself, six years older. Older Manoel says six years ago he was on his way to school, sidetracked into the courtyard and met a fisherman in a cave, went boating with him, came home and his life changed. His parents’ hopes in their son were shattered, his mother died, and he went off to work after dropping out of school. But he sidetracked into a courtyard, met the fisherman again, and boated backwards through time, retrieved his family’s jewels from the sea, and met his seven-year-old self.

So, young Manoel continues to school, follows the advice of older Manoel, becomes an extreme overachiever, and a few years later his father dies. So he visits the fisherman, goes back and yells at his young self. “This time he chooses caution: he must ignore the fisherman’s call, but he mustn’t succeed at school.” At the end of the day, his parents are fine, but the townspeople find a dead boy on the beach: older Manoel.

Part 2: The Picnic of Dreams

More tense-twisting from the narrator, and Manoel’s class is on a field trip, literally to a field, where the teacher wants them to attempt to fall asleep and dream a hospital, which might become real. This doesn’t work, and Manoel walks through the dream forest and meets a large man who talks to trees.

The giant takes a coin from Manoel, and with it they swap bodies. Now Manoel in the man’s body must reclaim the coin, breaks into his own house at night and grabs it from his piggybank. A more straightforward story than the other parts.

Part 3: The Little Chess Champion

After his mother dies (guess he failed to save her through time-travel) Manoel is sent to live with his aunt, who lives with her son and two nephews in a museum. “The staff had moved out because of ghosts.”

Manoel plays violent games with the servant’s sons Pedro and Paulo, and visits the funhouse on Elephant Island with his cousins and a mysterious sea captain – but that may have been a dream. He meets seven-year-old Marylina, a genetically-engineered super-child who’s now the world chess champion and has a fiancee named Rock who has exchanged brains with a famed pianist.

There’s levitation, shadow plays, and my favorite visual effect, a bit of perspective-play with a hand coming through a keyhole. The captain takes Pedro into the shadow world, so Manoel visits the chess girl for help. But she and her fiancee have been discovering secret codes hidden in the structures of things. My favorite: “The Eiffel Tower is an iron code that translates French body odor into perfume.” The Captain comes and steals more children into his shadow world. It’s a completely insane episode.

The Captain and his demise:

“Now after all these years, when I remember my childhood, I think these things were just my imagination.”

This has played in different forms (a four-episode version, a theatrical film) in different places, including at Cannes. The acting credits are listed without character names, but someone figured out that Teresa Madruga (of Joao Monteiro’s Silvestre) plays Manoel’s mother. Fernando Heitor and Diogo Doria (an Oliveira regular, also in Love Torn in Dream) may play his father and teacher. The rest is a mystery to me.

F. Daly:

Writing or filming for children can sometimes bring a person straight to the source of their art. Having to perceptibly adapt their style confronts them with what must be included. Manoel leaves us with the essential Ruiz, the audio-visual companion to his extraordinary book Poetics of Cinema. Its dizzying narrative fold-over-fold methodology creates a labyrinthine temporal structure.

Also watched a TV episode called Exiles from 1988, which provides a nice career summary, focusing on Ruiz’s relationship with Chile and identity as an exile within his film stories.

The Great Man:

And something called Screen Pioneers (episode 3) from 1985 – an eccentric biography program, purporting to be from the future (like Time Trumpet) looking back on our present, and on this semi-unknown character named Raoul Ruiz. Written by Michael Powell expert Ian Christie – I’ve listened to some of his Criterion audio commentaries.
It’s only ten minutes long, plays like an extended intro to…

Return of a Library Lover (1983)

A first-person travel essay about Ruiz’s first return to Chile in ten years. Everything seems the same as when he left (it’s first-person narrated), except he notices a single pink book is missing from his shelf, a book he decides holds “the key to what happened on that night of Pinochet’s coup.” He interviews friends (including a “renowned library constructor”), and checks the bars. He talks to a bookseller. “I deduced that he couldn’t speak Spanish anymore and constantly had to check his own subtitles and translate them laboriously back.” What started out as a personal slideshow has turned into a full-fledged Ruiz movie. The book is discovered at the end, by contemporary Chilean poet Juan Uribe Echevarria.

My favorite line, a casual, matter-of-fact note on subjective memory: “Apart from having shrunk a little, the house was still intact.”

“From the Mayans I’ve inherited the knack of changing my childhood
just as one changes one’s native country.”

Easily my favorite Ruiz feature to date. At first it seems to have cranked up the surrealistic randomness of The Golden Boat, but with the constant visual interest of the short Le Film a Venir – which would be enough of a recommendation for me. But it just gets deeper and more fascinating as it goes on, while retaining enough of a plot and character structure to keep from becoming pure, confusing symbolism. Even if it turns out to be a huge allegory that I completely misunderstood, it’s still highly enjoyable on its own, full of meaning and ideas. Before I go seeking out others’ interpretations, a simple story rundown:

Stills from the remarkable first ten minutes:

The film’s subtitle looks like Latin, “Rusticatio Civitatis Piratarum,” translated as Pirates’ Exile. Set in “Overseas Territories, one week before the end of the war.”

Isodore (Anne Alvaro of Wajda’s Danton) lives with her parents in exile, who have a missing son (“he would be nine”). They see signs, abandon the house, are visited by cops who make reference to the Isle of Pirates. The girl finds an orphan boy (Melvil Poupaud, who became a Ruiz regular, most recently as the rescued colonel Lacroze in Mysteries of Lisbon) hiding at their new house.

Isidore considers drowning in the surf (her father: “Finally!” then when she falls for a mustache man and decides against suicide, “Ah! How I hate her!”). Pierre, the little boy, is discovered to have killed his whole family, now kills Isidore’s parents, then castrates the mustache man who shoots himself. All of this is done in a low-key way, with nobody getting too upset. Ruiz characters are never shaken when their families are killed.

Off to the Isle of Pirates, where her 10-year-old fiancee Pierre (aka Malo) abandons Isidore and she’s held prisoner by a guy named Toby (Hugues Quester, Binoche’s dead husband in Blue, also in Rohmer’s Tale of Springtime) with multiple personalities. “The defeat of Spain is inevitable… and with that, the feast of blood begins.” Isidore begins to doubt her identity, kills Toby with a knife (everyone is killed with a knife).

She’s visited in jail by her mother (not dead?) and the two cops from earlier. “Know this: this wonderful child who delivered you to the Isle of Pirates is our prophet, Don Sebastian. He’s known around the world. In England, he’s called Peter Pan … He reappears every ten years. He kills with joy his entire family. He shows us how to die. But, much more importantly, he shows us how to kill.”

“We, soldiers of the great battle of the world: we swear to die and to kill in order to introduce the army of corpses for the greater glory of our country, our cemetery. We swear to be reincarnated and to have the honor of dying again for the greater glory of our fathers, of the country of worms. We promise to pursue our struggle for the triumph of Death in order to perpetuate our glory in no other things.”

Isidore is back on the island talking to Toby, referring to Sebastian as their son. Sebastian, looking feral with a knife in his mouth, kills them both. Ends with Isidore and her mother looking at the Isle through their window, the ghosts of her father and Sebastian lurking around. “Everything begins again,” one of the women repeating “We are here… we are here.”

P. Hammond wrote an article for Rouge, hammers out a bunch of the film’s references, influences and allusions.

Surprise, invention, paradox are Ruiz’s touchstones. He believes in affirmation through irony, the clarity of enigma, deferred resolution, outlandish change of mood. He moves forward by staying in the same place. The tales his characters tell echo each other in certain details, enough to suggest an occult order behind discrete events.

What binds Ruiz’s lost souls to each other’s desire is an Oedipal, narcissistic quest for identity.

D. Cairns writing about a different film:

Keats spoke of “negative capability,” the power to enjoy things without understanding them, to relish mystery without requiring a solution, and to appreciate art without being able to fit it into a rational box. Although, there’s always a frustration with movies where one is shut out of the linguistic side, since you know you’re not getting the full experience. It’s like pan-and-scan, only with words.

I’ve found the cover image for one of his Poetics of Cinema books.