Sunday, August 7, 2011

Raúl Ruiz's new film "Mysteries of Lisbon" at IFC: Aug 5 - 11
Opening at Landmark Theatres: Aug 18 & SIFF Cinema Sept 30 - Oct 13

Highlight of the Seattle International Film Fest, to the extent that I expect it will be a serious contender for the best new film seen this year! Spanning three generations, dozens of characters, seven narrative voices, a whole century of intrigue, mountains of sacrifice, scandal, war, loss, mystery, misery, revelation, piracy, conquest, the high seas, early colonialism, the age of science, 19th century decadence, class struggle, and lasting nearly 5 Hours this is one that defiantly disproves that literature can't be translated to film... it just involves the massive undertaking of all of the above qualities, a director who's deeply immersed in the tale, has decades of directorial skills established and has assembled a almost-impossible perfect cast of actors capable of portraying an ensemble-cast of characters, many of them over the course of decades of change, metamorphosis, epiphany, revelation into the persons they become through the trials and tribulations of life... and what a almost 'mystical' life it is! Adapted from the novel of the same name by Camilo Castelo Branco, who's work is often compared to a hybrid of Dickens, Victor Hugo, and Tolstoy, and I'd say in this cinematic adaptation, expansive enough to also include such far-flung literary styles and content as Conrad, Melville and the decadent surrealism of characters like those that populate Thomas De Quincey's "Confessions of an English Opium-Eater". This is exactly a piece of literature that would be deemed 'unfilmable' by most. What Ruiz delivers is instead labyrinthine, complex to a you're-screwed-if-you're-not-paying-attention degree, mesmerizing in it's multifaceted structure, this is a true life-like puzzle as multiple identities are stripped away to uncover startling revelations in the best traditions of both literary and cinema melodrama and mystery.

That it's a period piece exploring the mad world of the 19th Century takes away not at all from richness of the material, and certainly the more 'stuffy' social conventions of the time(s) are explored at length to reveal their mirror-opposite and other face, usually over time in the lives of the very same character. The characters of this century in all their mysticism meets colonialism, meets revolt, meets the age of science, meets the age of high adventure, meets the end of the era of piracy - meets all-together in the mind of a young boy caught within the convolutions of the adult world. It's intrigues, it's family and class struggles, the monstrosity of the aristocratic system, the bourgeoisie, and his own life having been denied a family due to being born a 'bastard' son, as this delirious, dream-like fugue of a film/tale. Ending with, what is one of the greatest sleight of hand I've probably ever seen in cinema (and inverting what is probably the worst of narrative gimmicks that exists), which on the surface appears to be a cliche', but in exploring it's dualism/multiplicity there's a epiphany that comes as almost a revelation... especially after the 4 1/2 hours that proceed it. A Massive achievement. Almost faultlessly executed and paced, to the extent that at almost twice the duration of your average film, it's propulsive layers-upon-layers of story-within-story, elapse in what seems like half it's time. For lovers of great tales, and especially those who know their history (both established, eccentric, literary and factual) this is probably the current definition of 'Cinema Magic' right here, in that way where you come away feeling that fiction has just 're-written' history itself.

From Tony Pipolo's review in Film Comment: "To recount the plot of the film is to engage with its reflexivity, as each story stumbles into another and points of view shift in a continual spiral that is less a matter of digressions than the irresistible lure of storytelling. Were the film to continue for 50 or 100 hours, one imagines it might subsume all possible stories from the period of its setting—late 18th- to mid-19th-century Portugal and France—into a tapestry threatening to extend geographically with Borgesian design, a human comedy to surpass Balzac’s."

Link to official "Mysteries of Lisbon" site

Link to IFC distribution "Mysteries of Lisbon" site

Link to Landmark Theatres "Mysteries of Lisbon" site

Link to SIFF Cinema "Mysteries of Lisbon" site

Link to Tony Pipolo's "Mysteries of Lisbon" article in Film Comment