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.

Meditative drifter David Dewaele (a Dumont regular who died in 2013) and sad teenager with family problems (Alexandra Lemâtre of no other films) are apparently friends (I can’t shake K. Uhlich calling them “Hipster Jesus and Anime Goth Girl”), and in the opening minutes he murders her stepdad for her.

Rest of the film is less story-driven and more mystical than we’d expect from that opening. David is some kind of a healer. Alexandra is pursued by an amorous guard, but she likes the emotionally unavailable David instead. There’s a forest-fire / walk-on-water scene that brings to mind Nostalghia, a disturbing rabies-sex scene, the unexpected rape/murder of Alexandra and her much-more-expected resurrection. What does this mean for the case against her murderer, who gets caught in the previous scene?

Strange sound design – during long shots we hear someone (the cameraman?) breathing loudly. I rather liked this movie, but my critics who’d seen his earlier work did not. S. Tobias: “Another tedious variation on themes that would seem too specific to repeat … His impeccable style has never been in question; it’s his purpose that seems in doubt.” I’m also not sure what it adds up to, but it’s mysterious and pretty enough (Cinematographer Yves Cape also worked on Holy Motors) to keep me happy for a couple hours.

Mom, on encountering her resurrected daughter:

Andréa Picard defends the film in Cinema Scope:

Hors Satan’s elliptical nature and multiple readings are firmly beholden to the film’s form; Dumont has referred to his emphasis on “sensations” and the retrospective (instead of fleeting) meaning of images attained through careful composition and construction. With a striking refinement and reduction of his palette, and a sly sense of humour, Dumont has reached a new level in his filmmaking.

Played in some sub-category of Cannes with Elena, The Day He Arrives and Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Crank
Just the combo of stupid/fun I was looking for. Asshole (Jason Statham) gets injected with Speed plot device, has to keep his heart rate up while finding out who killed him, very D.O.A. It’s ridiculous, but knows it’s ridiculous, keeps the energy high and ends up a Shoot ‘Em Up-caliber success

Crank: High Voltage
Just the movie to put a damper on the fun spirit of the first movie, Hatchet 2-style. Cartoon credits and an intro TV reporter calling the events implausible and saying “bullshit” on the air set up the self-aware, even-more-ridiculous sequel, but it devolves into sexist, racist trash that borrows too heavily from the first movie. I always forget to not watch sequels to things I like.

I had no idea that Statham’s best bud was Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite. He was a highlight of both movies. I don’t think anyone else stood out (sorry, Amy Smart) besides Statham himself, who was so good that I’m actually considering renting the Transporter series. I’d originally figured that I’d follow these two movies with Gamer by the same writer/directors, despite its bad reviews, but Crank 2 cured me of that. Also, naturally, I admit that both movies would’ve been better if I hadn’t watched them alone and sober.

image

Virgin Tara isn’t very popular at school or home, gets kidnapped by “warlock couple” (IMDB’s phrasing) Anton and Judith (Lori Petty from Tank Girl and Prey For Rock & Roll), and locked in basement with Johnny. Tries to get free with friendly Johnny’s help before whatever monster comes after her, till she realizes he’s the monster. See, he’s sorta dead and has gotta kill 12 girls to be resurrected by whatever dark powers, and she’s the twelfth. Well he finally gets her, but he makes his own deal: Tara’s life back in exchange for his parents. Gotcha!

image

Fun, pretty good movie from director of Fear Dot Com, Haunted Hill remake and upcoming Parasomnia. Writer Matt Greenberg just did silly John Cusack hotel horror 1408. Neither, obviously, is a MASTER of horror, but it’s a good enough title for the series. That fast/slow-moving thing used to creepy effect in Haunted Hill gets used here when Johnny turns into the creature… I love that stuff. Must be the lowest body count of all the MoH episodes I’ve seen.

MoH trademarks: don’t remember any naked women, didn’t see any familiar-looking actors, but someone’s eyeball did pop out.

image