Raoul Ruiz  

A Chilean who lived in exile in France since the fascist coup. His cinematic career is long and not only prolific but diverse, with many different periods, always changing and experimenting, finding new ground, styles and topics to cover. In the beginning he made Chilean neo-realist dramas with increasingly Godardesque cinematic experimentation, on topics covering Chilean society, culture and politics, with some abstract, didactic or satirical excursions and slight touches of absurdism.

In France, he soon dived into intellectual abstraction and formalism, using structure and every aspect of film to explore his thoughts and ideas. He is a self-proclaimed 'imaginist', constructing a reality according to the intellectual themes being explored, sometimes wandering into magical-realism territory, and sometimes telling a fantastical tale just for its own sake. His work is not necessarily surrealistic where irrational or subconscious images are used to explore a subject, but a place where rationalism or imagination overcome and force you to re-evaluate reality. Any and every aspect of reality is up for playful deconstruction, forcing one to see things from different angles via absurdist fantasy. He abandons narrative often, following an idea or whim through visual flights of fancy, injecting absurdities, sacrificing realism for imagination, and plot for odd little detours, storytelling and tall tales. His most consistent and long-lasting approach, however, is to experiment with cinematic structure, cinematography and dialogue, playing with cinematic conventions, resulting often in formalist movies for cineasts to analyze in addition to covering intellectual themes for the rest of us, with an occasional dry Bunuelian sense of humor. This highly experimental period lasted from the late 70s until the late 90s and produced most of the movies reviewed here.

During the early French period he also made a prolific series of shorts and documentaries, many of them playful and wildly experimental (including one where France becomes a deterministic board-game). His movies from this period were often based on an artistic whim, theme or curiosity, writing it up in days and shooting it quickly as an experiment. There are many impossible to find obscure releases from this period. He gradually increased the humor and became more playful with his creations in the late 80s and 90s and finally, in the late 90s, became much more accessible, employing narratives (sometimes even linear ones) but often with challenging dialogue and themes, and fantastical plots that slightly tweak reality. During his last decade of movie-making, he used experimental cinematography techniques to blend different times, places and memories together, exploring a narrative through structural experiments, and telling a story through a non-linear structure via the mind of the protagonist with free association and imagination. For example, in Time Regained, he explores Proust's last book of a series through a kaleidoscopic hodgepodge of memories, and in Klimt he creates a biopic exploring the deteriorating mind of an artist with snippets of intellectual debates on art, and imaginary muses, allegories or representatives of society appearing as real people. Died in 2011.


Comedy of Innocence (AKA Son of Two Mothers)  
This one gets under your skin and grows on you slowly. A young boy suddenly starts acting strange, convinced that he is the son of another mother much to the consternation of his family. To make matters more confusing, he seems to know exactly where his other mother lives, and seems very familiar with her home. On top of this, it turns out that this new woman used to have a son who may have been lost in an accident, and she starts to act familiarly with the boy as well. For the first half of this movie, it becomes more and more surreal, exploring the theme of reality that is created by our behaviour and beliefs. Mental discomfort erupts as the basics of reality and perspective are undermined. The boy tortures people with his video camera, creating his own version of reality, and they are disturbed because he is forcing it on them. At times, the various characters in this movie entertain these new possibilities for a while, letting reality shift, until their emotions pull them back. What is even more intriguing about this movie, is that by the end, everything turns back to normal and the surrealism of the first half evaporates into thin air.

Three Crowns of the Sailor  
A very dense, artistic, poetic and beautifully filmed masterwork. At the surface, this is a bizarre narrative about the meeting between a murderer and a sailor and the exchange of wondrous and strange life-stories. In this strange world, a sailor has a doppelgänger, prostitutes line up and state their possible flaws, there's a girl called 'by-the-way', a man writes home to his mom about the slaps he got on Christmas, a shy, insecure, virginal prostitute keeps her possessions in a coffin, a man smokes cigarettes in a pipe so that they won't get stolen, a ship sinks only when the seas are very calm, sailors identify themselves by their letter tattoos, muggers recite poetry, men produce worms and butterflies through sores instead of defecating, and so on. Even the dialogue is strange. An example: "Can you lend me some money?" "How much?" "Less than what you have." "That's too much.". There are many interpretations of this obviously symbolic movie, each more obscure than the rest, but for me this is about people alive and dead. They are dead because they are only living other people's lives and stories, they can't defecate because they aren't really absorbing and using the 'food', and a man's essence is transferred through the generations, thus 'dying' so that others may 'live', like a lineage of vampires. In this abstract world, people are interchangeable as long as they belong to the same letter tattoo, father figures are killed for their stories, the crowns represent the currency of exchange, identical stories and passions are shared between sailors, and even nudity is an artificial construct exposed when the artistic nude removes her nipples and pubic hair. Ruiz explores mechanical relationships, family, love, sex, religion, liars, commercialism, knowledge, and desires all within this context, and repeated viewings keep realigning the pieces of the puzzle in new ways.

Three Lives and Only One Death  
This marks the beginning of Ruiz's relatively more accessible period where he also used more notable celebrities. Four short stories intertwine and flirt with each other, the fourth twisting them all together into a braid. The theme is identity, the strands that tie separate people together or that separate multiple aspects of the same person. Ruiz has fun with this, casting Mastroianni in four roles, playing word games with names, using little details to play with this theme like showing a man who makes the same money begging as he did as a professor, showing a mirror image that is doing different things, telling a story of a man who tries to resume his marriage by switching roles with her current husband, etc. Characters are taken to amusing extremes, a sweet couple sleeps with anyone who asks them nicely but their naivete repels swingers, some people blend into the patterns on the wallpaper, and one man thinks fairies has stolen 20 years of his life. Both an anthology of strangely amusing stories, and a metaphysically strange art movie that serves as a contrast to Lynch's Lost Highway. Not a masterpiece, but fascinating on many levels.

Of Some Interest

Ballet Aquatique  
Although it starts as a documentary on octopi, Ruiz soon swerves this towards his usual imaginist directions, turning a science documentary into absurd pseudo-science. Although tongue-in-cheek, it also intrigues the mind with altered possibilities, turning reality into just another absurdity. Ruiz himself narrates the discovery of the inherent innumerability of fish as a kind of variant of Heisenberg's principle, as fish change their numbers without detection, and our perceptions are altered even by our eating of them. Other scientific facts presented here include the brief alternate reality of fish dominating the world and keeping humans in aquariums. Imagination 1, science 0.

City of Pirates  
Perhaps Ruiz's only film that truly feels surreal, because he seems to be purposely exploring the irrational and the imagination and how it affects reality and perspective, causing delusion, hysteria or madness, and related subjects like controlling relationships, hypnotism, dreams, the projection of desires onto objects, etc. This plotless, confusing, bizarre movie with nonsensical dialogue revolves around an unbalanced woman who works for a family on an island, her flippant, wandering relationships with different men of different ages and roles, her fantasies, delusions and fears, during which people die or kill themselves mysteriously in almost supernatural ways, desires become reality, and identity shifts, sometimes between imaginary people. From another angle, this is Ruiz exploring the melodrama of the mind, the gothic horrors and mystical symbols we see in the ordinary, the romance we superimpose onto violent deaths. A child kills his family, but in this movie he is a ghost, a symbol, he kills due to abuse or various Freudian needs and desires, etc. She tells her romanticized life-stories and gets upset when her audience read newspapers instead of listening. Men want to die, over and over, come back for revenge, uncover fates that usually involve death, are possessed, possess others, or appear in different guises. An island is constantly and mysteriously alluded to in lipstick, prophecies and blood. Bizarre visuals include levitating balls, paper boats in a man's blood, a head in a suitcase full of food, a man throwing a skull containing flowers to copies of himself, and a murderous child. The camera frequently makes objects look absurdly huge, playing with perspective and our eyes. Finally, in addition to this interpretation, there are the many typically obscure references and allusions by Ruiz for the intellectually inclined that enjoy pointing them out.

Dark at Noon  
Perhaps a companion piece to City of Pirates and almost as incomprehensible. Whereas the latter movie explored the imagination, this one revels in fantasy, the unnatural, the miracle, and the irrational. A scientific adviser on the topic of miracles goes to visit a village where miracles and strange phenomena have replaced normal life. In this place, art, books, paintings, horror stories, fantasies, religious imagery, etc have all possessed, snatched, conquered and impregnated reality and people's minds. Unfortunately, the screenplay never seems to progress beyond this concept and the movie then gets lost in one bizarre vignette after another: A cemetery of crutches (presumably where thousands have been cured), zombie-like villagers, a Virgin Mary apparition that mimics everything she sees, a bizarre work of art that spouts cobwebs and possesses the viewer, a floating man is led on a leash, a boy who must get permission to perform miracles, a strange experiment involving copulation in a lab and reincarnation inside a Marquis's body, a doctor studying the Marquis's split personality by having him masturbate, a man who buries people alive as a joke, etc. Intriguing or amusing at times, but mostly infuriatingly confusing and random.

Days in the Country  
Ruiz returns to Chile to direct this slow-moving but delightfully nostalgic movie about memory and reality. Memory dominates this movie in typical Ruiz imaginist form, the world and a man's past seen through his mind, the past and the present and the imagination blending until you don't know which is which. Don Federico and his friend sit in a cafe discussing their past. He has been planning to write an auto-biography, but his real life and his memories are much more fun to explore and play with, and so everyone around him pokes fun at his book that will never be written. The cafe appears empty at times; perhaps it too is a memory and they are both dead. They reminisce. Their younger versions sometimes appear to be affected by their older versions, sometimes they are visited by their future ghosts and presences since they are only alive through memories, just as their older versions are haunted by memories of their younger selves. Young Don Federico shuffles like an old man then instantly turns into a vigorous younger man. Imagination takes over as details are remembered, with objects such as dripping water and watermelons taking on new strange meanings. Dead people and their stories come back to life to visit, peering through hazy glass, as memories raise them from the dead. Matchsticks can magically turn into absurdly huge weapons of war in the imagination, and therefore also in reality. Woven in between these metaphysics is a tale of Don Federico and his servant Paulita who yearns to see her son and has Don Federico read his letters to him, but events unfold that may reveal Paulita is also using imagination to her own purposes. A lightly surreal movie, with a melancholic, nostalgic tone.

Dog's Dialogue  
A landmark short from Ruiz that started his more abstract and artsy period of film-making in France. Vicious barking dogs in territorial streets combined with flashing, static La Jetée-esque images of a woman's melodramatic and circular life convey a feeling of life led by mechanical fate and primitive instincts. Words and behaviour no more meaningful than those of a dog as the woman is harassed as a child, discovers a dark, violent secret about her true parents, leads a sordid life, which then erupts in violence, closing the circle. Images and words are repeated formally, the concept of predefined roles played with as a woman assumes the role of a man, etc.

Fado, Major and Minor  
Inspired by Dostoyevsky's The Eternal Husband, but this is another challenging meta-creation by Ruiz that only uses the original story as a base for free-wheeling riffs and unfettered imagination. The theme is the relationship between the cuckold and the philanderer, the former somehow fated to always lose his women to the eternal ladies-man, and yet he always finds himself drawn masochistically to invite him in. The latter, on the other hand, can't help but turn on the charm and the romance, and is so oblivious regarding the damage he causes that, in this movie, he lost his memory and can only reflect on the past through confusing fantasies. Thus, a young man confronts the older version of his wife's lover along with his sick daughter, which the lover finds out may be his. A suicide hangs over their tense but ridiculous interaction, and the young man both confronts him and becomes his friend while literally chewing on glass, and a woman who may be his wife or a whore seduces the old man to join her in the bathroom. Because both love and affairs are compared to defecation, they just happen. But that doesn't stop men from objecting at the rudeness of nudity in the bathroom. In flash-backs, another man confronts the lover who was then an encyclopedia salesman, and the affair takes on absurd soapish melodramatic tones, his hat turns into the symbol of the antagonism between them to the point that it takes a life of its own and floats. The fated cuckold spits on his hat but still pressures the lover to take it as his own. Dysfunctional families and unloved women are his playground, seductive young girls display their cruelty to dogs and to men, the Encyclopedia Britannica becomes the ultimate object of desire, and so on. There's also a completely bizarre surreal dream-sequence where a house is a letter, birds are guests, and rabbits hop around the living room. The characters interact with each other in cryptic but very playful dialog thus turning Dostoyevsky's novel into a comedy of cuckoldry, manners and affairs and that are absurdly disastrous, flippantly polite and cheaply romantic.

Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting, The  
An overrated intellectual mockumentary which has been compared to Greenaway. Six mysterious paintings and one allegedly stolen one are analyzed by a collector and an interjecting narrator. Theories, conjectures and forced allusions based on fictional minutiae suggest different explanations as to why the paintings once caused a scandal, and the collector keeps eerie recreations of the paintings using live people so he can explore them in 3d and adjust the visuals on demand. A little joke on the world of art, and a moderately interesting exploration of how we perceive images, and what paintings can convey through us.

Insomniac on the Bridge, The  
Two insomniacs meet, a voyeur professor and a boxer, they both discuss the loss of life through sleep, suicide, and the ability to make anything happen through dreams. They feel they can grow in power together and spy on, oversee, manipulate or control the normal people who sleep. The movie then starts to lose its grip on reality along with them, as they embark on a series of actions and adventures involving the rape of a pregnant woman, and bizarre dreams, human mutations and ghosts, as they attempt to use their powers on various people, lovers, or drowned people. Sometimes the movie seems to be exploring themes of consciousness and identity, how we perceive reality, what part of us exists in this world, and possible states of being while living, sleeping or after death. Possible connections with other people are explored, love reduced to absurdities, links to spirits, superficial links to live people, rape, psychology, solipsism. But the movie is so lost in bizarre word-plays and confusing scenes of otherworldly human interaction that it is mostly baffling.

Life is a Dream  
Ruiz explores memories, the experience of life as a series of interconnected images, facts, and history through the metaphor of cinema. With multiple intertwined layers, Ruiz builds a movie that behaves like mnemonic associations. A revolutionary who once memorized the names of 1500 people by associating them with lines from the play 'Life is a Dream', realizes he forgot the play, goes to the cinema to try to recall memories, sees the same movie he saw 20 years ago, experiences temporary amnesia, etc. The movies he watches blend with reality, the cinema becomes a back-door to a police station, the toilet leads to a party, characters from the movies appear in several places, sounds bleed into the cinema, the cinema keeps changing into various things as people walk through, play, or exchange ideas, the cinema is compared to a church, special glasses allow people to see nudity only without nipples because they are 'censored' by a man who dislikes nipples, etc. etc. A difficult and dense abstract creation (with some playful scenes and dialogue) that doesn't behave like any other movie. Only sporadically interesting however, and it spends a lot of time in quotes and scenes from the actual play.

An accompanying mini-series to Recta Provincia, this one also dealing with stories and story-telling, only these are maritime-based, stories told by sailors. Facts merge with legends, and absurd fantastical stories are subjected to strict rules, analysis and corrections, sometimes re-told in a more realistic way or wandering off into an alternate story. The story-tellers live on a ship called Lucerna which, it is claimed, hosts sailors that are not quite living or dead. Some of them are made to jump overboard as a matter of ritual, others tell their tales to a very serious and strict audience of their peers. The stories include: A cursed girl whose three past boyfriends have died in accidents, and who turns out to have a 'devil-brother' within her that alternates with her. Her elusive body becomes a subject of strange tests, and names of people are replaced with others as the context calls for it, playing with identity and words. There's a captain of a ship with wife-troubles who grows horns even as he cuts them off. There is a mystery of blank letters sent to sailors, ghostly correspondents, and a woman who appears in many letters. There's a strange acidic man who hires a sailor to impregnate a woman. Another man is haunted by naughty ghost triplets. Several romances and woman from the past continue to haunt the present in different ways, often involving the pier and connected with mysterious letters and the ship. Amidst these stories, Ruiz injects his usual unusual camera angles to change our perspectives, and bizarre little amusing playful details such as a ghostly flag the neighs like a horse, a game with frog figurines, an attacking haunted suit, a man in a radio, etc. Of course, things soon get metaphysical, with the story-tellers in the ship interacting with their own stories and the story elements bleeding over into other stories. Traditions, folk-stories and legends are created and riffed on by the story-tellers, even while the story is playing out, emphasizing that the stories are very much alive and are intertwined with the story carriers. The ship emerges as the container of our memories and legends, our clothes are the stories we carry which have a life of their own, the stories that are forgotten are thrown to the sea, which is why the tellers are half-dead-half-alive, ghosts that we keep alive.

Love Torn in Dream  
Nine stories including a priest who lost his faith, a thief and a magic mirror, a search for a pirate treasure, reality-hopping, lost lovers, and a web site that predicts a person's actions, are combined in various ways as a playful exercise. For starters, combinations are made using the same actors, traits, costumes, and keywords, then by interchanging the time periods, characters and background sounds, but most of all there are the shared objects, symbols, discussions, themes and concepts that get twisted around and played with as they move between stories. Stories intertwine through projections through magic mirrors that are stolen but that also cause theft, dreams of two people that conjoin through time and space, a similarity of faces leads to more connections, paintings that hide secrets that paint paintings that fall in love with people that were captured by paintings, and a name like Socrates becomes a ghost in one story, a discussion in another, and then a joke in an absurd story about ships named Socrates that sink. In addition, everything is made absurd, fantastical, nonsensical. Philosophical ideas are reversed with sophistry just for the hell of it, explanatory theories and mechanisms make use of other elements from another story just to achieve more combinations, etc. A magical stone is claimed to stop earthquakes but the customer retorts that he likes earthquakes, a pirate kills the poor because he doesn't want them to starve, and there are the endless bizarre and alienating absurdities such as a 'female coffin' that produces food while a dead man inside it eats. There are frequent recurring themes of predestination and freedom, as if the movie were trying to break free by breaking all conventions and ways of thinking while still following its own associative rules. An extremely dense movie with references to many other Ruiz movies, almost like a compact summary of his work. Somehow it manages to be chaotic, rebellious and free-form while still adhering to rules. Unfortunately all this only makes it sound like a masterpiece and the actual result is too chaotic and whimsical, its density is probably also its undoing as there doesn't seem to be a focus, a single theme or thread to carry through this pseudo-structured madness and intellectual masturbation. Probably surpasses Dark at Noon in terms of free-form unapproachability and is much more interestingly playful than clever.

Maleta, La  
A very notable 20 minute short in Ruiz's career for three reasons: It is his first movie he ever made. It was lost, and only found and re-edited towards the end of his career. And it contains a unique surreal and symbolic idea for Ruiz. A man packs his things into a suitcase, but it seems his possessions possess him as they take on a life of their own and turn into a human being. He carries the huge suitcase, suffering under its weight, the suitcase seems to carry his master who takes on many faces, and even in the street he has to collect his scattered things and his individuality away from the prying eyes of a police officer. The dialogue consists only of grunts presumably added by the re-editing job.

Manoel on the Island of Marvels    
Like Treasure Island, this is a children's movie for adults, this time presented as a TV Series in three parts. Ruiz explores a child's mind, life, responsibilities, fears, interests, etc through the imagination and a series of fantastical or odd scenes. The first episode is by far the most coherent and interesting, Ruiz exploring time-travel and a Groundhog Day loop as the child finds himself in a time-loop trying to correct mistakes and save his family's lives. Specific objects and events such as jewels, a thief, his teacher, a series of questions, a strange old sailor and his half-man-half-dog become critical in this loop. Instead of closing circles of time however, Ruiz keeps shifting them sideways in a game of chance in an interesting structure of never-ending looping circles. The other two episodes just seem to wander from one imaginative oddity to the next: His class try to dream something into existence, switching bodies with an adult, magical coins, cards, violent children's games, a child chess prodigy, flying, pirates, hand-shadow games, peering through a keyhole only to get pulled through it, child love, a sailor who is a doll, etc, all with some random references to the first episode.

Night Across the Street  
Ruiz's last movie, filmed by a man who knows his end is near, is several things at once: It is a personal movie that tries to balance his lifelong intellectual playfulness with the one thing obviously on his mind. It is also another nostalgic exploration of time and the celebration of the imagination, and also a summary of the various things that interested him in his life: The marbles of time and how these create the person, the imagination and how it retains one's youth and existence, explorations on literature and language, the politics of Chile, fantasy, nostalgia and storytelling. Celso is an old retiring man sometimes accused of losing his marbles or being incoherent. His memories, which may or may not be real, blend with imaginist fantasies, and conversations with imaginary people such as his idol Beethoven and Long John Silver the storyteller. Experiences of his childhood blend with current events, he refuses to see realities such as new buildings and sees what he wants to see, imagines death coming at him from many directions, with fantasies of killers and everyone wanting to kill everyone going out of control. A bullet becomes a poetic object, time slows down to a sludge as he walks while others around him speed away, the barrel of a gun becomes a tunnel to the afterlife, and his characters and imaginary friends taunt him even in the afterlife. It asks delicate questions such as whether we lend ourselves to death, or whether life is a lease. And so on, with many little absurd fantastical touches that tease and play with the mind, reminiscent of Ruiz's earlier movies except with a more personal feel, throwing reality out the window and playing bittersweet mind-games with death, almost as if he wants to make friends with it and start a conversation.

Nucingen House  
A puzzling, strange and playful exercise by Ruiz that is at times a throwback to his earlier experimental period but is still pre-occupied with memory. It also feels like a European remake of Days in the Country. A gambler wins a mansion, taking his ailing wife there for rest and recuperation. He finds many odd occupants that may not even be alive. Ruiz mixes ghost story b-movies, mystery and black comedy here, dropping repetitive clues and visual cross-references that jumble all of the occupants' stories together, with links that may or may not be superficial. Blood appears on one woman's towel then on another's forehead which may or may not have a connection, ghosts sometimes appear visually and other times are only heard, some of the ghosts may or may not have been related, there are strange absurd rules like languages and religions that are confined to specific parts of the house, horror appears in the form of blood and skeletal limbs, but these soon become absurd as a bone is played as a flute, etc. Most of the movie consists of Ruiz toying with ghostly games, breaking the rules of ghost stories with whimsical imagination and comedy. At another level, the feeling of morbidity, trapped situations, absurdity, confusion with time and non-linear logic reflect the man's mind who is telling his own tale through a kaleidoscope of memories. At yet another level, this movie is told by a writer sharing his experiences and memories that may or may not be true, creating his own reality that conflicts with the version of his life told by fellow customers at a restaurant. In other words, this is pure Ruiz experimentation that is only there for its own sake.

Recta Provincia, La  
Magic, fantasy, tall tales, folklore, and storytelling, mixed with countryside simplicity and wisdom make up this Chilean series by Ruiz, sometimes reminiscent of Love Torn in Dream or other works by Ruiz where the storytelling itself is the focus of the show. The stories intertwine and cross-reference, a storyteller tells a story of a storyteller and his story, and the plot is just a framework for everyone to tell their story. A man and his mother find a magical flute-bone that can sing as well as ask for a drink, and they find out it belonged to a Christian man in need of a Chilean drink and a burial. So they embark on a quest to find his other bones, encountering a wide variety of devils that play mean games with the locals, witches, spirits and many other strange apparitions and spells. They take it all in their stride as part of their day-to-day country life. Folklore serves as a guide, and the stories also serve to impart thoughts and wisdom. Men walking backwards in a circle serve to undo a devil's spell, there are musical cherries, levitating hats, protecting spirits that require wine for their services, a bandit that searches for a barrel of tears, and so on. The whimsical tale-spinning can get a bit tedious and overlong if you don't know what you are getting into, but, otherwise, this mini-series has its own unique whimsical charm.

Régime Sans Pain  
Bizarre sci-fi-cum-music-video from Ruiz that somehow evolved from music videos for a terrible French pop-art duo, to a movie about the loss of identity in the future. In a world where cities have become car-graveyards and transport is achieved via bicycles equipped with sails, a princely ruler loses his power due to bad TV ratings, he is depersonalized by a machine run by an evil Professor Pie, and is threatened with ritualized death by car accident. He seeks his personality, a lovestruck wheelchair-bound woman convincing the Professor to help. The search somehow involves body parts, including a beating heart, magical clothing from a dead person that can give a person his personality, a strange warehouse full of clothes, a hypnotic ritual by Catholics where he hallucinates them climbing into his mouth, fencing, and a tap-dancing extravaganza.

Suspended Vocation, The  
Ruiz's intellectual exercise in the form of an unfilmable, difficult book turned into a movie. The theme involves concepts of dissent, factions, conflict, two flip sides of a coin vs. the whole picture, domination vs. submission, opposites, revolution, debate, doubt, profanity/perversion vs. the sacred and holy, all explored philosophically in the context of religion and politics. Although it contains priests, revolutionaries, nuns and snippets of narrative, this is a very abstract and formal movie, boasting a unique approach of two contrasting movies in one: Two sets of actors in two similar movies, contrasted and sometimes conflicting with each other, always spliced together in the editing room. A movie that is both focused and loose, meaningful and abstruse, provocative and meditative. Not surreal or strange, but very difficult and often confusing.

That Day  
When Ruiz creates an absurd farce, you just know things will take a turn to the extreme. This one is a linear tale of the insane with outrageously absurd and out-of-control comedy. Livia is an insane new-age woman-poet who somehow becomes the fulcrum of the world, heiress to all kinds of fortunes with a dozen people wanting something from her by hook or by crook. Pointpoirot is an escaped mental-patient-cum-angel-cum-serial-killer with a mission. When the bodies pile up, the police decide to sit in a restaurant and do nothing. Because, you see, this is the best day of her life.

Tango of the Widower and Its Distorting Mirror  
Ruiz's first unfinished film, found, restored, its audio recreated, and a second half appended to it as a 'distorting mirror'. A man is haunted by his wife's suicide as well as her memories. He constantly sees her under the table and behind corners, and Dadaistic, symbolic wigs are crawling everywhere like creepy ghosts, or turning into his wife. His family try to function around him, his son teases him with toys and wigs, while his mind deteriorates haunted and pondering his memories of her. The second half of the movie shows the whole thing in reverse with extra musings and subtle distortions, questioning the memory of this story itself. So it's basically an attempt by Ruiz's family and friends to convert 30 minutes of early Ruiz footage into a more later-day Ruiz playful experiment, and it actually works, kinda.

Treasure Island  
What starts off as an adult-oriented modern retelling of Treasure Island quickly becomes a multi-layered, strange creation that can be absorbed in many ways: A coming-of-age drama, a view of the confusing adult world and behaviour through the eyes of a child, a modern retelling of Treasure Island, a metaphysical exploration of a writer creating his own story, a quirky absurd comedy about adults playing games and taking on roles, a grand metaphor for the cyclic predetermined 'games' that all adults adopt and play, including war and violence. Jim is very confused when his world becomes something out of a thriller he sees on TV, adults seem to be playing cruel games with him and with each other, his parents behave confusingly with strange guests that arrive at their hotel, and confusing dreams with moving walls and strange visitors don't help matters. Soon his life is full of intrigue, what looks like suicides, fake deaths, plots, conspiracies, diamonds, brigands, war, and a treasure island as life starts to imitate fiction. Not as challenging or abstruse as other Ruiz movies and it is overlong, but often amusing.

A strange satire from Ruiz from a strange period on his life in between Chile and France, filmed in Honduras of all places. It is a progression from the more absurd satirical political movies he made in Chile, most closely resembling Colonia Penal with its absurd depiction of torture and general behaviour amongst the new powers that be. In this movie, he pits local communal customs alien to the rest of the world, with the liberals that see it as a kind of utopia, vs. the conservatives represented by a couple of salesmen looking for their friend. In Bunuelian fashion, a tribesman is worshipped, his song is seen as supernatural, his excrement as magical sources of food, and any aggression against him kills him instantly. A village community with equal work division and free sexual experimentation by the women befuddles and angers the salesmen, one of them trying to marry a local girl with poor results, labelling the village a bordello while tracking down a rumor that they killed his friend because he was money-hungry. The clash is demonstrated in many absurd vignettes, with a man suddenly getting out of his truck to feel free by walking out in the open, and donating his truck to a local who can't drive. In another scene, people argue over a dying man about whether to treat him using local customs or at the hospital. In Surrealist fashion, the leader of the country lives in a crashed airplane, and the conservatives keep a nun's talking head as their spiritual guide, her body nowhere to be seen.

Wandering Soap Opera, The  
Seven sketches shot in Chile over seven days satirizing Chilean politics and society using the language of soap-operas to the point of absurdism and Ruiz-style bizarre surrealism (and completed by his widow after his death). The sketches grow increasingly more obscure and strange as they go. There's an attempted affair where a man's attraction to the woman's left-leg means he is pseudo left-wing, except she wants muscles so he offers her some meat. There's a bureaucrat with hairy palms, men with eggs growing on their body, revolutionaries with proclamations that kill other revolutionaries with proclamations ad infinitum, a gathering of people that turns out to be a soap-opera as watched by an audience in a soap-opera with characters crossing over freely into other soap-operas, a dramatic turn of events where all men die leaving divorced women on their own just like a soap, and so on. I'm sure that someone that knows Chilean society would get a lot more out of this than the average watcher. The final episode is a baffling sequence of completely bizarre non-sequiturs with people used like props in a vaguely murderous and chilling atmosphere, with random dialogue, pets and violence. I couldn't make heads or tails out of it.


Blind Owl, The  
The title refers to a classic book from Persia/Iran which I read just to try to make sense of this movie. That proved to be only remotely helpful. The book creates a world of a man's stream of consciousness who is possibly dreaming, or seeing opium-induced visions that take him through time, his memories, his parents, his bad relationship with his wife, etc. with strange or symbolic imagery, shifting identities and recurring details as in dream-logic. Themes include a duality and attempted synthesis of life and death, and the spirit versus the sensual, with sexuality, death and women falling under the latter category. This would have made a good Ruiz movie without changes, but Ruiz, as usual, only uses it a starting point and mixes it with elements of another play, relocates some key scenes into a cinema/movie, and reinterprets the surrealism of the book through flashes of personal impressions, variations and abstractions. As you can imagine, the result is ultimately difficult and mostly an impenetrable mess. Like the book, the movie drifts between segments, dreams, scenes from another movie/life/time, all somehow connected through the protagonist. The only suggested themes I could extract from the movie are those of human relationships, tradition, death, the bits and pieces of ourselves that we derive from these (tying in with the book's theme), identity, and the intensely personal, emotional and very irrational behaviour that goes along with all this. Also, due to the book, the movie is very heavy on the Arabic costumes, themes and traditions. A woman love-obsession is cut into pieces and carried on his back as he travels signifying the effect of sex/woman on man, decapitated heads are kept on display employing death to demonstrate a man's ideals, people look for the uncle, a twin, his friend wearing a balaclava pulls strips of flesh from his wounds, a skull talks to him, and there are many displays of insane emotion, religious expression, lust and bizarre behaviour. The narrator makes poetic statements as he shares these personal shifting identities, locations and times with us, sometimes giving the impression that we are watching younger or older versions of himself in different worlds. All of this doesn't really come together though, and in the end, this is just too impenetrable and bizarre.

Genealogies of a Crime  
Features a surprisingly conventional narrative about a lawyer who adopts hopeless cases and defends an alleged murderer who had a strange relationship with his aunt (the victim). The lawyer gets conflicting versions of what happened from different people involved in the boy's life, and tries to make sense of their stories through their various eccentricities. But as this is a Ruiz movie, this becomes a backdrop for Ruiz's experimental intellectualism and sense of humor. Madness and pre-destiny are the themes, exploring whether we control any aspect of our lives through the various little madnesses in our minds. But this experiment didn't quite come together for me, often feeling out of control or devoid of focus. Colorful characters include an aggressive shrink with a disorder that disallows face-recognition, and a man who drops cultural names every other word, claiming that everyone's psyche is made up of books, fictional characters and art. Motives, psyches, characters and profiles frustratingly change hands every other scene in a mad Robbe-Grillet-esque puzzle that confuses more than it reveals. A strange psychotherapy technique is shown involving the recreation of a painting, and death comes due to destiny, nonsensical motives, or from the hands of a ghost out for revenge. A mess.

Golden Boat, The  
A tiresome one-note Bunuel-like joke movie that explores the conventions of soap opera, old, cheesy, violent TV shows, and Mexican melodrama. The protagonist lives in a world where a stranger who stabbed himself follows him around with a knife in his stomach while killing everyone he meets as a form of communication, people break out in melodramatic back-stories and soliloquies, strangers turn out to be related or cheating or in a love triangle, people he meets in toilets or restaurants break out in violence or turn out to be involved in cliched, nonsensical conspiracies, soap actors drone about their loves or life dramas, etc. This is also a world where whisky bottles appear out of nowhere, women are hypnotized by mistake and made to pose for sketches, men lie on the floor talking while geysers of blood pour out of them, and raindrops turn into coins. Absurd, bizarre, sometimes amusing, but mostly wears thin after a few minutes.

On Top of the Whale  
Wildly experimental film that seems to be exploring the very basics of sociology, anthropology, linguistics, culture and general human interaction. Or it may be just an obscure metaphor for Ruiz's typical political interests. A group of linguists and anthropologists with wife and kid recluse themselves in a strange house with the last two survivors of a tribe that communicates using only 60 words. A very disjointed, difficult, explorative movie follows with many random snippets of dialogue, nonsensical monologues, absurd stories, interaction that becomes melodramatic for no reason, sudden bursts of dramatic music, the collection of words, strange body gestures, fantasy mythology and masturbatory cultural intellectualism, the random use of five languages, facial expressions, a telepath cutting off his tongue, etc. all spliced together in a jumble as if Ruiz were exploring humanity by overturning everything he knows at it. Also at times an attack on cultural rape through colonialism. An intellectual experiment, but an uninteresting, unrewarding one.

Professeur Taranne, Le  
Based on a surreal book which was based on a real dream telling the absurd, dreamlike and confusing adventures of a man with a severe identity crisis. He is constantly being accused of things like littering, indecent exposure and plagiarism, and people think he is someone else even though he feels he is a famous lecturing professor. Ruiz uses this as a backdrop for another of his super-quick medium-length experiments, only this one gets butchered to service more practical goals of his at the time: Ruiz wanted to use this to teach acting students so he took this story apart into an awkward sequence of dramatic meandering scenes with absurd location-shifting and artistic camera placement, then quickly and constantly replaced all of the characters in the movie with different actors, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence.

TV Dante, A  
A series of TV shorts covering a translation of Dante's Inferno. The first eight were covered by Greenaway in his typical multimedia style with superimposed images, sound and information. The next six, in a much more obscure release alternatively titled "Diablo Chile", were converted into an experimental political pseudo-joke. Ruiz juxtaposes a reading of the Inferno with largely irrelevant footage of Chile's Santiago and random 'hellish' imagery as an experimental, one-joke statement on Chile being hell. Chileans chase Dante and Virgil with crosses, people, clothing and objects burst into flame, some Chilean citizens are hung upside down from a ceiling, a handful of gory bits are thrown in with dismembered limbs, flags pinned into brains, facial mutations, nasty cooking recipes, etc. It never goes beyond this joke however and it all feels rather lost and weak.

Vanishing Point  
If there were an award for the most pointless movie in history, this may just get first prize. Allegedly, this movie was done on a dare to break the record of 70 camera setups without second takes. The myriad camera setups and rough feel of the movie may be there, but the movie itself? Let's put it this way: If someone took 30 random snippets from various movies and spliced them together, the result may still have more thematic consistency than this. There's this man on an island, he talks to various people about nothing of interest, he plays cards and discusses winning and losing, the spoken language changes from French to English to Portuguese randomly, and women keep appearing spouting completely random statements and making drama and emotion over things they say, even though no one seems to be listening to them. There's a long discussion about liking or not liking chicken and eggs. For a while, the man seems to have a job drawing covers for crime books, and something almost happens, but then the movie wanders elsewhere. Crimes may or may not have been committed. He has bandages on his face for some unknown reason, and they are taken off in stages, and they're gone. There's a story about a king, a painting that hides the same painting underneath, conversations about messages in beer bottles, and so on and on. You may be happy to know that he won the dare, but I won't dare you to watch this movie.

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