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The Library Lover: The Films of Raúl Ruiz

Friday, March 2, 2012
7:00 p.m. Mysteries of Lisbon
Raúl Ruiz (Portugal /France , 2010)

"The most glorious achievement of Ruiz’s prodigious career and one of the first cinematic masterpieces of this century." Film Comment

(Mistérios de Lisboa). The noble and the damned are interchangeable in Raúl Ruiz’s magisterial gambit on the art of storytelling, based on Camilo Castelo Branco’s nineteenth-century Portuguese novel yet more mind-bending and radical than any contemporary tale. A young boy in a Lisbon orphanage wonders who he is, but soon each and every identity comes into question, especially as flashbacks, flash-forwards, and tales within tales begin to spiral forth. A priest may be a fighter, a wealthy man a highway robber, and a noblewoman a nun. “But who are you?” asks one character. It all may depend on the story you’re in, and who is telling the tale. What remains constant is the sumptuous setting: a decadent Old World Portugal of crumbling estates, extravagant ballrooms, and fog-bound dueling fields. No stranger to epic novel adaptations (Time Regained adapts a volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time with similar flair), Ruiz treats his material with consummate respect and a baroque, Borgesian grandeur, constantly framing shots within shots and actions within actions. A tale of tales, of orphans, counts, and duels, this costume metadrama is Dickens filtered through a Surrealist’s gaze, and a fitting summation of Ruiz’s artistry.

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Carlos Saboga, based on the book by Camilo Castelo Branco. Photographed by André Szankowski. With Adriano Luz, Maria Joäo Bastos, Ricardo Pereira, Clotilde Hesme. (272 mins, In Portuguese with English subtitles,
Color, Blu-ray, From Music Box Films)