Thursday, May 14, 2020

Raúl Ruiz "Mysteries of Lisbon" Virtual Theatrical Exhibition at Lincoln Center: May 22

Ranking highly on numerous films of the decade lists, Film Comment, The Playlist and my own included, in 2010 Chilean director Raúl Ruiz assembled a epic duration human comedy to surpass that of Honoré de Balzac. Spanning three generations, dozens of characters, seven narrative voices, a whole century of intrigue, mountains of scandal, war, loss, misery, revelation, piracy, mystery, romantic conquest, the high seas, early colonialism, the coming of the age of science, 19th century decadence, and the subverting of class hierarchies, "Mysteries of Lisbon" is what many considered the masterpiece of a filmography playfully brimming with abundance, ideas, and form. Set during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, which circuitously navigating across the territory of all of the above, the film like much of Ruiz, is in a sense instead about the mechanics of storytelling and the unbound nature of imagination. Taking in Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville and the aristocratic eccentricity of characters that populate the novels of Thomas De Quincey, with generous dashes of tonal references to Marcel Proust’s “unfilmable” novel “À la Recherche du Temps Perdu”, (which incidentally, Ruiz adapted to film in 1999), this cinematic subverting of the period costume drama shifts in a continual spiral that is less a matter of digressions, than the irresistible lure of storytelling. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Camilo Castelo Branco, who's work is often compared to a hybrid of Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and Leo Tolstoy, Ruiz weaves a set of characters from diverse class origins in 18th to mid-19th century Portugal and France into the tapestry of a social and political farce of delirious design. Showing in a limited screening as part of the exclusive virtual cinema programming offered by Lincoln Center, this will be the domestic debut of this work in the totality of it's 333 minute run time. Now released ten years after the Ruiz' theatrical cut, for the first time in an English subtitled edition supplied by Music Box Films.

Further stylistic and thematic points of reference specifically can be found in past and contemporary works as disparate as Stanley Kubrick's cynical 18th century socio-political comedy, “Barry Lyndon”, Whit Stillman's postmodern 19th century play of manners, "Love & Friendship", Federico Fellini's delirious descent into "The City of Women", and both the classic Roger Vadim "Dangerous Liaisons", as well as Stephen Frears adaptation from the 1980s. Most significantly, it is literature and the more adventurous representations of 19th century's novel's extended storytelling form, that can be seen to express themselves vividly through Ruiz' tapestry. One can clearly find representations of Joseph Conrad's "Nostromo", the novels and short stories of Jorge Borges, the previously referenced central pivots of Proust's "Time Regained" and the human comedy novels of Balzac. But let it not be said that Ruiz is a product of his inspirations and influences, but instead it is his own elegant intellectual gamesmanship and weaving of a elaborate historical fantasy which matches even these great works, and can be seen in Richard Brody's New Yorker review of "Raúl Ruiz Adaptation of Marcel Proust’s Masterwork". It can also be witnessed in J.Hoberman's "Revived and Still Luxurious: Raúl Ruiz’ Search for Proust", overview of Lincoln Center's 2018 Ruiz Retrospective, and in the larger body of writing on the life and work of this "Mild-Mannered Maniac" as he was called by the New York Times. Following his death in 2011, there have been a number of such assessments of his filmic oeuvre and the life of this rather singular artist and individual, but it is the entrancingly strange, beautifully eccentric fable of Ruiz' (possibly) final film in "The One Thousand and One Nights of Raúl Ruiz", by which he should be considered. That is, until there's opportunity to see the long-developed 1990 project "The Wandering Soap Opera", reveal what will possibly be his last, and among the greatest, of the "Excursions into Raúl Ruiz’s Fertile Mind", through it's restoration, and the "Art and Craft: Recovering a Film (and a Nation)".