Thursday, August 30, 2012

Raoul Ruiz: Mysteries of Lisbon

Joao Arrais, Mysteries of Lisbon, Music Box Films, 2011.

Wrapping our troubles in dreams his own passionately peculiar way, Chilean master Raoul Ruiz has devised not only one of the best pictures of his career, but also one of the most important films of the new century.

Ironically, in adapting Portuguese literary powerhouse Camilo Castelo Branco's dense, Victorian inspired novel, Ruiz was forced by the sheer length of the thing, to make it as a mini-series for Portuguese television. Yet he had always intended for it to be seen on the big screen. Running four and a half hours, this intoxicating, mind bending period piece is one of the great movie going experiences of my life.

Detailing in minutest positioning, the memories within memories of a boy as he becomes a man, Ruiz crystallizes his distinct style as a visual storyteller. The dark intensity of 19th century Portugal whisks us away on Ruiz's visionary passions. Pedro Da Silva is a Dickensian orphan who is compelled to unravel the mystery of his origins. Memories become wrapped in dreams, multiple characters reflect on their own lives and decisions via masterful use f voice over, and it all washes over us a testament to the power of cinema.

Joao Arrais and Jose Afonso Pimetel both hold our hearts splendidly as Pedro, the boy and the man. The rest of the cast all match that driven focus; how Ruiz culls it all together is part of the magic in its mystery, and reminds us that he is one of the most important directors in the world. Three Crowns of the Sailor and Time Regained are his two previous films this reminded me of most; mythical dream world meets dense character drama; both entwine until indistinguishable. Yet this film is better than both; in fact it is the crowning achievement of the master's career.

Having passed away earlier this year, we have lost one of the most distinct and enchanting voices in world cinema. And yet he lives on through his movies. Mysteries of Lisbon was one of the great movie going experiences of my life. It was televised in Portugal in 2010; played art houses in L.A. and New York City in mid-2011, and now is available on dvd in 2012. Not surprisingly, its better than anything that has been released stateside so far this year; Malick's Tree of Life is the only recent film that can rival it in depth and scope.

Ultimately we are under Ruiz's spell as he spins another surreal internal narrative of love and death. Recalling the Bronte's and Dickens among others, Mysteries of Lisbon is pure unadulterated cinematic craft.

Watch it now on Netflix Instant Watch

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