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5 Essential Raúl Ruiz Films

5 Essential Raúl Ruiz Films


© Leonora Calderón


Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz (1941-2011) first made a name for himself in 1969, when his first completed feature film, Tres Tristes Tigres (1968) shared the Golden Leopard with Alain Tanner’s Charles mort ou vif, Sándor Simó’s Those Who Wear Glasses and Gleb Panfilov’s No Crossing Under Fire. He subsequently gained a reputation as an avant-garde filmmaker, with titles such as L’Hypothèse du tableau volé (978) Les Destins de Manoel (1985) and L’île au trésor (1985), before moving on to collaborations with high-profile stars like John Hurt (Dark at Noon, 1992) and Catherine Deneuve (Genealogies of a Crime/Généalogies d’un crime, 1997). The Locarno Festival’s 2017 line-up includes Concorso internazionale entry La telenovela errante, an unfinished project from 1990 that was completed by Ruiz’s widow, filmmaker and editor Valeria Sarmiento (who previously made Lines of Wellington from an idea by her late husband). To mark the occasion, we look back on five cornerstones of Ruiz’s career.

Max Borg

Tres Tristes Tigres (1968)

Described by Ruiz himself as “the reverse of a story”, his first full feature is an offbeat character study, set in the middle class community of Santiago. Bleak and blackly humorous, the film paints a stark, engrossing portrait of the city that subtly hints at the unrest that is to come (Ruiz and Sarmiento resettled in Paris in the wake of Pinochet’s coup in 1973, which also led to the movie itself going off the grid for twenty years). This microcosm is therefore not only a remarkable calling card for its director, but also a foreshadowing of a dark chapter in Chile’s history.

5 Essential Raúl Ruiz Films


Dark at Noon (1992)

Shot in Portugal (because of its resemblance to Chile), Ruiz’s first foray into “mainstream” filmmaking is a surrealist, Monty Python-inspired comedy starring Didier Bourdon and the late John Hurt as respectively son and father, with the former embarking on a journey to find out what became of the latter’s fortune. At once accessible and subtly impenetrable, the film is a distillation of Ruiz’s sensibilities that deceptively adheres to more “commercial” standards, with delightfully absurdist jokes.

Le Temps retrouvé (1999)

Selected in competition in Cannes in 1999, this star-studded, 169-minute extravaganza, featuring the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Béart, Vincent Perez and John Malkovich, is an adaptation of the final volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. The supposedly unfilmable novel comes to life in vibrant, colorful fashion. Having previously tackled the topics of time and memory in other films, Ruiz finds the perfect kindred spirit in Proust’s prose and delivers a dazzling cinematic experience.

Mistérios de Lisboa (2010)

The director’s final international success, first unveiled at the Toronto Film Festival, is a suitably epic endeavor: a four-and-a-half-hour period piece that, due to its length, was transformed into a six-episode miniseries for television in some markets. Plot twists and dual identities (some of which assigned to actors like Léa Seydoux and Melvil Poupaud) abound in this adaptation of Camilo Castelo Branco’s book, paving the way for a rich, thoughtful reflection on the mechanics of storytelling itself.

La noche de enfrente (2012)

Selected in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2012, nine months after Ruiz’s death, this is his official swansong and last completed feature. It is a powerful cinematic testament, a meditation on time and art that climaxes in a symbolic reflection on the director’s own career, as the main character’s coworkers gather together to reminisce about him. A fitting epitaph to a remarkable body of work.

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