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.

Every year I look forward to the Atlanta Film Festival, getting increasingly excited until some offensive act causes me to sit out the second half. This time I was thrilled to see Ruiz’s five-hour Mysteries of Lisbon on the program, but pissed once it started that they were projecting it from DVD. What kind of rinky-dink festival thinks that is an acceptable practice, and without even an apology or excuse? Picture was muddy and macro-blocky, the color desaturated compared even to DVD screenshots I found online. When I complained about the same issue two years ago after a screening of Beket, an AFF official left a comment counterintuitively stating “screening 35mm prints is cheaper for us to do than any other format we use.” I hope he returns this year to explain the Lisbon situation. Also, the dude from Turner who introduced the film called Ruiz, the seventy year old director of over a hundred films “up and coming,” with no knowing wink or chuckle to imply he wasn’t serious.

The movie was very good, worth taking the time off at 1:00pm on a weekday to see in its entirety, but not my favorite Ruiz movie by a long shot, lacking the anarchist humor of That Day and the shorts I’ve seen. If not for a well-placed deep focus shot here, an anamorphic lens-twisting there, I could’ve believe that any of a handful of dedicated European art directors had adapted the 150-year-old novel into this massive period costume miniseries.

Young Joao is having a fit, deathly ill, dreams he sees his mother, whom he’s never met. When he awakens, Father Dinis of the orphanage begins to tell him about his mother, Countess Angela who lives nearby, forbidden by her domineering husband from even seeing her illicit son. The movie takes on a flashback structure that reminds me slightly of The Saragossa Manuscript, even with the storytellers interrupting themselves to go to sleep, then resuming the next day. It seems Angela was in love with a young man (Don Pedro) whom her father wouldn’t let her marry, she got pregnant, and the baby was to be killed – but the assassin (Knife Eater) cut a deal with a passing gypsy (the priest in disguise) and sold the child.

Mysterious gypsy, left, with Knife Eater:

Back in the present, an outspoken Brazilian (Alberto de Magalhaes, formerly known as Knife Eater) is entering high society. Awesome scene when some guy demands a duel and Alberto straight kicks his ass, the fight shot through the window of the priest’s passing carriage. Angela’s husband, who’d married her despite the priest’s ghostly warning that he would be marrying “a dead slave” since her heart was lost to the murdered father of her stolen child, had become a tyrant who openly carried on an affair with Eugenia the maid and locked Angela in a single room. But the husband gets sick and dies, repenting first to the priest. Oh, and priest, while you’re here, an old monk named Alvaro wants to talk to you, reveal that he’s your father and give you the skull of his wife Silvina, your mother, to take home with you. Flashing back to a scene of the priest’s birth (and mother’s death), we get an excellent long take, following the nervous father from room to room. Knife Eater, in an unexplained coincidence (probably detailed in the miniseries version), marries the housekeeper who once tormented Angela.

I can’t remember who this is – found the screenshots online:

Another sidetrack story, as Elise de Montfort (Clotilde Hesme of Regular Lovers and Love Songs) arrives, and the meddling priest visits to tell her about her mother Blanche, who was adored by the priest, and also Benoit (son of the nobleman who watched over the priest) and a colonel whose life the other two men had saved, Ernest Lacroze (Ruiz regular Melvil Poupaud) – Benoit wins, marries the girl and they have two kids – Elise and her brother who died recently in a duel. A grown Joao, now called Pedro da Silva, loves Elise, but she says to earn her love he needs to avenge her brother’s death, caused by the wicked Alberto de Magalhaes. He returns to Lisbon from France after hearing of his mother’s death in the convent where she’d been living since her husband died. Joao/Pedro challenges Alberto, who won’t fight, tells Pedro that Alberto was the would-be assassin the day Pedro was born, who reformed and turned the money the gypsy/priest had paid for the boy’s life into a fortune, says Elise is always sending infatuated young men to kill him.

Poor Joao’s mother, with priest in the background:

Anyway, probably some other stuff happens, and Pedro gives up and sets sail for Tangiers – seems to be dying at the end, dictating his life story, the movie looping back to his illness at the beginning, making me think perhaps he died in the orphanage never meeting his mother, imagining the whole rest of the movie in a five-hour fever dream. Also in both bookend scenes is his puppet theater, which the movie uses to illustrate the scenes or to set up new ones, and a painting that comes to life in a weird Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting tableau moment.

One of my favorite recurring events in the movie is that during many of the major scenes, the lead characters’ servants are shown blatantly listening in, sometimes in the foreground while the conversations are distant from the camera. I’m not sure what it added up to, all the shifting identities and vendettas and love affairs and parental secrets, besides being an entertaining bunch of stories. And for a movie with Mysteries in the title, everything is pretty well explained by the end.

Lots of writing on this online. More than one mention of Great Expectations, which occurred to me too. M. Koresky’s article is my favorite:

The nun who was a countess. The priest who was a soldier. The nobleman who was a thief. The poet who was a bastard. Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon is a costume drama in more ways than one. … Though it may seem daunting, the size of the film is its chief pleasure. There’s so much room to parry and maneuver, so many doors (some literal) to unlock, secrets and coincidences to be in thrall to. … Whether we’re seeing a death or a regeneration, a dream or a remembrance, the final images of Mysteries of Lisbon, filtered through an amber haze of memory, unites all of the film’s disparate strands in one delirious, cinematic consciousness.

An impeccably shot but disturbingly off-kilter comedy-thriller, a very successful genre mash-up with the perfect amount of Ruizian surrealism (not way too much, as in The Golden Boat).

Michel Piccoli, apparently wearing some eyeliner:

In short, a father (Michel Piccoli) is scheming to have his daughter from an earlier marriage (slightly mental, confined to home, played by Ruiz regular Elsa Zylberstein) killed by allowing a murderous psychopath (Bernard Giraudeau) to be released from the asylum and led to his house – but the psychopath and the daughter fall for each other, and he ends up killing almost everyone in the movie but her. Meanwhile a couple of cops, using some kind of ridiculous logic, decide to stay away from the likely crime scene until later in the evening, at which point the father kills himself and the cops arrest the head of the asylum (Féodor Atkine of The Silence Before Bach and Sarraounia).

Below, a portrait of soon-to-be-murdered family members. From L-R:
not sure, Roland (Laurent Malet of Chabrol’s Blood Relatives and Demy’s Parking), Leone (Edith Scob, between Comedy of Innocence and Summer Hours), Luc (Jean-Baptiste Puech), Hubus (Jeunet regular Rufus, Amelie’s dad), Bernadette (Hélène Surgère of Intimate Strangers, who died last month)

The actors, especially our two leads, are amazing. Ruiz gets in some nice long takes, deep-focus shots (not as absurd as the ones in City of Pirates), some anamorphic-lens twisting (a la Comedy of Innocence), some black comic dialogue (twice when people Pointpoirot was about to kill die on their own, he responds “that wasn’t me”), ridiculous story developments (all this murder is over the inheritance of a condiment fortune) and melodramatic elements (I think the valiant, surviving house servant Treffle is the brother of asylum head Warf).

Treffle with Warf’s mustache:

Pointpoirot’s blood-sugar meter during one of my favorite scenes, a one-take cartoon shootout vs. Roland:

Livia is excited at the start of the movie because all astrological signs point to this being the biggest day in her life. In the park she chats with a guy from the easily-escapable local asylum, taking a break from a bike ride with his companions, and someone shouts at Treffle in recognition – I think that’s the setup for his being related to Warf. Piccoli’s ex-wife got the “Salsox fortune,” which the daughter will inherit, so Livia was supposed to die along with brother Luc (she actually kills Luc) – not other brother Roland (shot) or Hubus (heart attack) or Bernadette (stabbed) or Leone (hit by car).

Lovebirds:

Bernard Giraudeau as Pointpoirot. This was one of his last movies, as he died of cancer last year.

Elsa Zylberstein was also in the movie This Night, which is not a sequel to That Day.

Grunes:
“Switzerland, in the near future,” a once-neutral nation through which tanks are now rolling, evoking images of the military takeover of Ruiz’s native Chile in 1973, precipitating his flight to Europe.

Police chief, with a bit of food in the foreground:

Slant:

There are more than enough laugh-out-loud moments — Livia and Pointpoirot’s slow dance is scored to the chimes of the dead relatives’ discarded cell phones, while Edith Scob … exults the nuances of bottled sauce — but Ruiz’s best gags are formalist: A cut from the misty outdoors to a dining room has one of the characters polishing the camera’s eye, and the extended chase between Pointpoirot and Livia’s gun-toting brother is staged as a repeatedly advancing-receding tracking shot in a posh hallway. That Day is a Chabrolian parody, just as Colloque de Chiens is a goof on Fassbinder and Shattered Image is an erotic thriller send-up…

Piccoli and Scob:

“You’re bleeding all over the place, but you never die.”

Watched this directly after That Day, in which a semi-insane man stabs lots of people, often with little reaction by his companion. Same exact thing happens here, making this movie seem like a retread of the one he made thirteen years later.

In foreground: a knife sticking out of Austin:

Ruiz movies are easily distinguishable from his Euro drama contemporaries such as Oliveira or Chabrol though his distinctive use of deep-focus shots, the stagier-than-usual dialogue, and the nothing making any dramatic sense at all. In this one a crazy street dweller named Austin (Michael Kirby, who showed up in a couple Woody Allen movies and The Atrocity Exhibition) enjoys stabbing people and seems to be searching for his son. But when college student Israel helps the guy out and tracks down the son, the man is cagey about whether Austin is his dad. Then that plot thread is dropped so Austin can go about stabbing more people and making Israel confused. There is some talk about God’s will, and lots of shoes. I think all the shoes mean something.

Or maybe not… here are some of the plot points I’ve written down:

– Jim Jarmusch plays a hooded miscreant, bangs Israel’s head against a wall, surprisingly threatening given that he is Jim Jarmusch.

– Some guy who is in love with Amelia holds them all hostage.

– They are at the beach digging a hole looking for Austin and people keep bringing them sandwiches.

– Swiss guy shoots Israel as he’s trying to kiss the girl who claims she killed her husband.

Thug Jarmusch:

It was an amusing movie, but since nothing seems connected by a sensible story, it’s not very memorable. IMDB says it was shot 16mm, so the 4:3 picture I’ve got on VHS may be just fine. I was excited at first about the soundtrack by John Zorn, one of his first, but I didn’t notice it much once the talking started.

Rosenbaum: “In effect, New York’s downtown punk coalition meets Ruiz’s dreamy doodling, and a certain amount of querulousness on both sides grows out of the brief encounter.” The Times loved it, called it a “slight, gleeful work” and noted that “many people get killed but few stay dead.”

Barbet Schroeder gets killed in the first scene:

Ruiz, of course, explains it better than anybody:

I began to watch television in order to study the iconography of American TV. Then I started watching Mexican soap operas on the cable channels. One day after watching two or three soap operas, I decided to write something using the rhythms of soap operas about some experiences I had many years ago while living in New York. I tried to use the dialogue of soap operas as a kind of music.

Musco (1997, Michael Smith & Joshua White)
A fake 1984 infomercial for a music-oriented lighting equipment company. I don’t get it. It was part of an art installation, and I don’t get those in general, maybe because I don’t live in New York.
image

Flash Back (1985, Pascal Aubier)
Two-minute short – soldier is killed in combat, life flashes before his eyes represented by photos going back in time until to the earliest baby picture. Guess Pascal had to find an actor with lots of family photos for this.
image

The Apparition (1985, Pascal Aubier)
A guy’s bathroom light makes the Virgin Mary appear in a church across town. Aubier ought to be at least as popular as Don Hertzfeldt.
image

Un ballo in maschera (1987, Nicolas Roeg)
Things I like:
1. That the king is played by a woman (Theresa Russell) with a mustache
2. That the action takes place in an ellipsis (“…but”) between the opening and closing text (“King Zog Shot Back!”)

Nice piece, set to music by Giuseppe Verdi. First segment of the anthology film Aria, which I must watch the rest of when I’m not so tired (next segment put me to sleep in a couple minutes).
image

Universal Hotel (1986, Peter Thompson)
“1980, I have a strange dream. Between the fortress and the cathedral is the universal hotel.” Slow, calm analysis of photos and reports about a nazi experiment where prisoners were frozen then revival was attempted using boiling water, microwaves and “animal heat.” “I make statements about the photographs which cannot be proven. I speak with uncertainty.” Increasingly intense, with narrated dreams illustrated with photography tricks, a murder-mystery without an ending. Last line: “they come while I’m asleep.” Scary, and I would not have watched this right now had I known nazis were involved, but now I’m glad I did.
image

Universal Citizen (1987, Peter Thompson)
Now in Guatemala, Peter talks with a concentration camp survivor who told himself he would move to the tropics if he survived. He did, so he does, laying in a hammock, floating in the warm water, working on the sun roof of his house, listening to Armenian records and refusing to be filmed. Mayan ruins. This time the dream/nightmare scenes lack narration. Ends with a joke (and a shot from the beginning of the other film). Oh wait, no it ends with depression after the credits. I preferred the joke.
image

Bunker of the Last Gunshots (1981, Jeunet et Caro)
There’s an insurrection inside the bunker. A timer count backwards, people have gas masks and eyegear and prosthetic limbs, there are shootings, eletroshock, cryogenics, there is complicated machinery, tubes and wires and hidden cameras. Possibly they are Germans, it is possibly post-apocalyptic, and the soldiers possibly go crazy and kill each other. I am not entirely sure of the politics, but it’s a neat little flick, definitely full of the clutter style of their later features.
image

Opening Night of Close-Up (1996, Nanni Moretti)
That’s just what it’s about. The nervous cinephile (Moretti himself) who runs an Italian theater is opening Kiarostami’s Close-Up and wants everything to be just right.
image

World of Glory (1991, Roy Andersson)
“This is my brother. My little brother. I suppose he is my only true friend, so to speak. [both look away uncomfortably]” I just checked and yeah, Roy Andersson is the acclaimed deadpan comedic filmmaker who made Songs from the Second Floor and You, The Living. I’d believe it, and be almost excited to see those two after viewing this short, a guy grimly introducing us to his sad life, with he and others looking slowly into the camera as if we’re to blame for all this – except why did it start with a mini-reenactment of the holocaust? The whole rest of the movie I’m wondering that… he won’t let go of the “blood of christ” wine pot at mass and it’s supposed to be a funny scene but I’m thinking “the holocaust?!?”
image

Reverse Shot explains:

World of Glory locates a society — ostensibly the director’s native Sweden, but easy interchangeable with any modern European country — so paralyzed by ennui, anxiety, and desperation that its inhabitants are apparitions. The main character is a thin, pasty man who takes us on a guided tour of his life — his loveless marriage, his stultifying job, his pathetic day-to-day activities. It was not until the second time I saw the film that I realized that this character had been present in the first shot: dead center of the frame, turning away from the proceedings every so often to fix us with his gaze. His meek, self-effacing misery in the later scenes thus comes into sharper relief: a person who does not act to avert tragedy endures beneath its weight.

image

Je vous salue, Sarajevo (1993, Jean-Luc Godard)
“Culture is the rule, and art is the exception. … The rule is to want the death of the exception, so the rule for Cultural Europe is to organize the death of the art of living, which still flourishes.” This two-minute piece is a montage made from a single photograph, with voiceover. Directly to the point, I like it better than almost all of Histoire(s) du cinema.
image

Origins of the 21st Century (2000, Jean-Luc Godard)
A bummer of a film, montaging footage from news videos and feature films (The Shining, The Nutty Professor, Le Plaisir) over quiet music with the occasional commentary or block lettering, war and death, pain and happiness and a few plays-on-words.
image

If 6 was 9 (1995, Eija-Liisa Ahtila)
Sex, split-screens and supermarkets. More people looking into the camera confessionally, but all about sex this time, not too similar to Today.
image

Can’t figure what a full hour-long Ahtila film would be like, but she’s made two of them so I’ll find out eventually.
image

Zig-Zag (1980, Raul Ruiz)
Ruiz had adapted Kafka’s Penal Colony ten years earlier so surely he knows he’s making another Kafkaesque film here. A man named H. “realizes he is the victim of the worst type of nightmare: a didactic nightmare” when, late for an appointment, he finds himself part of a global board game at the mercy of pairs of dice. The game keeps changing scale, zooming out, so H. has to travel further distances more quickly – from walking to taxi to train to plane. Rosenbaum (who says it’s Borgesian not Kafkaesque) says it was made to promote a map exhibition in Paris, which to me just makes it more strange than if it was promoting nothing at all. “The history of cartography [is] the business of labyrinth destruction.”
image

Either H. or the mysterious gamer was played by Pascal Bonitzer, cowriter of some of Rivette’s best films. “We now live in the pure instantaneous future.”
image

Only my second feature by Ruiz, as much as I’m always talking about the guy – and it’s kinda what I’d expected. Good movie with some weird craziness in the plot, but at the same time, it’s a French film, a classy drama about restrained rich people.

Camille’s dad is out of town – his mom (Isabelle Huppert, the year before The Piano Teacher), uncle Serge (Charles Berling of Summer Hours) and maid Helene are taking care of him until one day he announces that his real name is Paul and he wants to go home to his real mom. He guides Huppert to another woman’s apartment – she’s not home but creepy neighbor Edith Scob (also Summer Hours) shows them around.

image

When beautiful Jeanne Balibar (the Duchess of Langeais herself) gets home, she tells Huppert about her son Paul who drowned two years ago, but also acts as if Camille is her Paul in the present tense. There’s no sense of paradox or surprise, nothing unusual, just these facts: Paul died and Paul is here. It’s not the kind of thing that could be done in an American movie without some character shrieking “how can that be? how can you say he died if you’re saying he is here in front of you?!” Huppert plays it cool though – invites Balibar to stay at her house so they can figure it out together.

image

In the climax, Balibar kidnaps Camille/Paul and takes him to the barge where Paul had drowned. Huppert shows up and Balibar surrenders and apologizes, everything back to normal.

Ruiz uses a Sam Raimi anamorphic-lens-twisting effect:
image

Is it pertinent that the maid might be having an affair with the uncle? That Balibar is after the uncle as well? That Huppert’s grandmother died of sorrow because of some incest incident? That Balibar’s neighbor Edith Scob is just as creepy and mysterious as Balibar herself? That a family acquaintance dies in a car crash near the end? That Camille has a businesslike 10-year-old friend who everyone had assumed was imaginary? All combines into an overall sense of mystery about identity, parentage, relationships, and what can be known.

image

I thought I’d heard of Denis Podalydès who played Isabelle Huppert’s husband, but it’s actually his brother Bruno I’d heard of.

Unnerving, noticeable music by loyal Chilean Jorge Arriagada and not extremely impressive cinematography by Jacques Bouquin (The Film To Come, Life is a Dream) – he does that thing where the camera is always gliding slowly past the action an awful lot. Overall I dug the movie… looking forward to Ruiz’s other 99 features.

image

I don’t get 99% of his references, and I lose about 90% of his trains of thought, but I like these books anyway. Some good bits:

My goal is to show that certain germinal images or instant fictions are the best starting point for a film that wishes to have a poetic pretext.
On many occasions I have been asked whether: “All types of cinema must necessarily be poetic. Might a simply narrative cinema not be possible in our times? A type of cinema for which things are simply interesting as peripeteias?”
Yes and no.
I have already said this before: cinema is condemned to be poetic. It cannot but be poetic. One cannot ignore this aspect of its nature. For poetry will always be there, within out reach. If so, then why not use it?
Although it is true… that in most films poetry is incidental, more often than not it’s there partly due to the fact that it has been ignored; nor is poetry really found in so-called beautiful things: rivers, landscapes, mountains and sunsets. Rather, we find it in the haphazard intersecting of sequences, in the instances of narrative incoherence and in crossing sight lines.
Yet, it is there. It is.
From this point of view, poetry is endemic in cinema.

Describing the roles of different people on a movie set, “A lighting technician is above all a maker of shadows. Though nobody seems to notice.” He then suggests that movie studios could hire a philosopher “to destroy all that seems evident.”

Cinema ought to continually play with the harmony and lack of harmony that exists between narrative evidence and visual doubt (that which I have just seen- have I indeed seen it?)

Film is “a language, but composed solely of verbs.”

I don’t know what “this idea” refers to, and I read it twice.

In our field, in the practice of cinema, this idea… suggests the possibility of linking ideas, sequences and situations, which, though placed in different parts of the film, and despite what the distances between them may be (or rather, and I would be willing to say, the greater the distance the better), connect with each other, one reinvigorating the other. Not only because they participate in the same intensity, but also because they have the same ‘sequence of durations’. Five or six shots remind us of another five or six shots from another film and they feed each other by means of an effect that I call ‘mirrors of duration’. It’s not that these shots last the same amount of time. Rather, here we have two intensities, which I am tempted to call states of fascination, producing the effect of emotional detachment.

After beginning to describe the plot of an imaginary film:

Up till this point we’ve had a film about justice, about the act of judgment. A film about. And I seem to recall having mentioned that I find it hard to tolerate and, above all, to make films about … (We should remember that the first question that the average American viewer will pose when confronted by a film that perplexes him is: “What is this film about?”).

He swears the following is “not lacking in all good sense or reason as it might seem initially”:

A few days ago, together with some friends, we played with the following idea-situation: if we accept that what Hitler really wanted was to take possession of Vienna, then it would have been enough for him to stroll through the city’s streets, walk every now and then into one of the cafes, observe the people, breathe in the contradictory odours that escaped from the city’s chimneys. However, it seems that it was indispensable for him to be accompanied by an army and that he be worshipped by the dumbstruck masses. When we enter a film, we would like somehow to appropriate it ourselves, we wish to invade it, we would like for it to adhere to our expectations.

Oooh, a promised third volume:

In the third volume of the Poetics of Cinema, I will be much more explicit, more generous, regarding analyses of specific cases and in proposing exercises.

Ruiz notices his own book’s roundabout nature:

I would like to write: “Yet we shall develop this theme later”. But the translators, who at this very moment are rewriting my words into inadequate and foreign tongues, have already made me realise that each time I have said “but this theme will concern us later”, I have, in fact, forgotten it forever.

WTF:

How does one represent all men, Jedermann, as king of the world? As a lonely man? As the dictator who strolling through the palace of ten thousand mirrors confuses himself with his 200 doubles? Or as one who, smiling under the rain, is condemned to smile even in his coffin, for they are always filming him? The image-man, let’s say Tony Blair (NB A. Blair, the Prime Minister of Great Britain as the first edition of this book was in print, deceased two years later).

On metaphors:

Often, and at times immodestly, I have made use of metaphors in order to approach intuitively certain ideas; many of which could best be described as images and half-glimpsed visions. I hope that among them it is the angelic smile rather than the sardonic irony or the biting impetuousness that has the upper hand. ‘Metaphor’ is a word that has a bad reputation among theorists. To use it implies that one does not have clear ideas, and in that case, the best thing to do is to remain silent. That may be so and I regret it. Yet, in the present state of the arts: does anyone have clear ideas?

image