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.


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.”


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.

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).


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.

“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:


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: