Switches between sharp black and white, and hazy 16mm color – stylishly artificial looking, almost Maddinesque. Five bad kids try to impress their lit teacher, finally sexually assult and murder her, blaming it on the icon of their evil selves, TREVOR.

TREVOR:

A sea captain claims he can make the boys obedient, takes them on his ship to a pleasure island with living plants, where they eat hairy fruit that turns them into girls.

The captain (Sam Louwyck of Ex Drummer) reconnects with his associate Dr. Séverine (Elina Löwensohn, who I watched yesterday in Let The Corpses Tan), is then murdered by the kids when he tries to remove them from the island.

Mandico is obviously a talent, and has a bunch of shorts I should dig up.

Nick Pinkerton in Reverse Shot:

The Wild Boys0 is a supremely assured piece of craftsmanship, evincing an active creative engagement and ample imagination in every minute of its nearly two-hour runtime … A maximalist to the core, Mandico has a natural enmity towards both an inactive camera and empty screen space, and when he isn’t stuffing the frame to bursting with whorls of fog, fleecy feathers, thickets of exotic foliage, bits of rigging, and the glisten of paillettes, seawater spray, or paralyzing sap, he takes pleasure in setting images within images: a fist glittering with jewelry clenching a revolver, for example, framed by the outline of the mountainous Île des Robes.

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.

Pandora (Ava Gardner) is immediately set up as destructive and impulsive, getting the man who loves her (Nigel Patrick of The League of Gentlemen) to wreck his prize racecar in exchange for engagement. Her other suitors don’t take this well – Marius Goring (young lovestruck composer of The Red Shoes) kills himself, and a vain, famous matador gets jealous. All this depresses poor Sheila Sim (star of A Canterbury Tale), who always thought she’d marry the racer.

But none of it matters, because Flying Dutchman James Mason (two years after The Reckless Moment) joins the party, doomed to sail the seas until he finds a faithful woman, and surprised to see that Pandora is the image of his own wife, murdered centuries ago. So they are obviously destined to be together (and soon die together, as the prologue already revealed). Before that, the matador is (justly) killed, Sheila’s uncle reads us the Dutchman’s diary to fill in backstory, and John Laurie (sideburned village elder in Edge of the World) is occasionally spotted in a supporting role.

Mostly the movie is known as a gorgeously-shot (by Jack Cardiff) technicolor spectacular, which looks just great on blu-ray. And there’s a remarkable chess set by Man Ray, who also did the paintings in the Dutchman’s cabin.

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.

Roman’s other three-actor feature besides Death and the Maiden, and this one truly has only three actors. There isn’t another soul so much as glimpsed in the background. And it’s an amazing film – don’t know how I didn’t appreciate it the first time I watched, but that maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention. Polanski has his actors pulling shapes, as the British say, posing to form geometric patterns across the screen at all times, like a suspense flick made by Maya Deren.

Married couple who seems more bored-and-businesslike than sweetly-in-love picks up a third wheel young hitchhiker and takes him along on their overnight boat cruise. Why would they do such a thing? Because the husband has an overwhelming urge to prove himself over other men and a penchant for playing mind games, and detects similar traits in the young man. Splendid ending: husband thinks the hitcher has drowned, swims to shore while the wife finds the hitcher still alive and has sex with him, nonchalantly confessing later to the husband. The husband drives away with her, reaches an intersection… turn left to go home, believing his wife cheated, or turn right for the police station, believing himself a murderer.

“Polanski was given a proposal to remake the film in English with some known Hollywood actors, but he turned it down as he didn’t want to repeat himself.” Maybe Michael Haneke has heard this bit of trivia, seeing how his own remade family-interrupted psychological drama has similarities to this one.

Cinematographer Jerzy Lipman (of Wajda’s A Generation) wouldn’t work with Polanski again after this film, possibly because he dropped the camera into the lake at one point. Movie failed to win an oscar for coming out the same year as Fellini’s 8 1/2.