The Immortal Stories of Raul Ruiz - upcoming events
Our on-going of Auteurs from the Other Americas survey series, and our Adaptations program – marking the International Year of Reading – intersect to celebrate the cinema of Raúl Ernesto Ruiz Pino (1941-2011).
In Europe and the US, Raúl Ruiz is considered Chile’s and probably South America’s most original filmmaker. He’s also one of world cinema’s great bibliophiles, the director who redefined the art of ‘adapting’ literature to the screen. But he was perhaps also art cinema’s greatest gadfly, contradiction and contrarian. Ruiz was cinema’s leader of the opposition against realism and what he cursed as the 'central conflict theory’ of classical film narrative. He was cinema’s Jorge Luis Borges; just as Borges’ writings explored 'character of unreality in all literature’, Ruiz was the great explorer and perpetrator of a cinema of lies, non-sequitors, fakes, facades and illusions.
Just like many of his ‘characters’ (especially Mastronini in the maybe crypto-autobiographical Three Lives and Only One Death) Ruiz was also causal with his identity as an auteur filmmaker. At the end of his career he seemed to a busy craftsman of French art cinema, turning out a film a year with an ensemble of quality star talent. At the beginning Ruiz was as one of a small circle of Chilean writers, stage directors and documentary filmmakers who founded a short-lived Chilean cinema new wave under Allende’s government – and then fled into European exile with the military coup of 1973. In between, there were stints making high culture art documentaries for French and British TV, straight-to-video erotic thrillers in Hollywood, and maybe 100 plus features never out of pre-production, shot on a whim, or reworked into other films (following a habit established in his early Chilean career as a playwright, where he claimed to have written 100 plays by the age of 20).
The only thing consistent in each of these directing careers were the Ruizian eccentricities he took to every project. Even his ‘juvenilia’ – the cryptic, sometimes mocking and anti-realist style of his two Chilean feature films, Three Sad Tigers and the Kafka adaptation The Penal Colony – was completely at odds with the ‘Third Cinema’ agit-prop mode of filmmaking in which his South American peers typically worked. And, whilst most of them continued to make films about Chile and the Chilean exile, after 1973 Ruiz seemed to instead make the same choice that the French and German exile filmmakers he admired (Lang, Sirk, Ophuls) had made when arriving in Hollywood in the 1940s: to take on the guise of a jobbing professional in his adopted film industry. To a degree: the po-faced art ‘mockmentary’ film that made his European career, Hypothesis for a Stolen Painting does as much to mock and subvert the cultural pretensions and assumptions of his necessarily adopted home as did Lang or Sirk’s Hollywood melodramas.
So it remained throughout his career. Ruiz was one of a small circle of ‘post-classical’ filmmakers – alongside, perhaps Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini, or Rainer Werner Fassbinder – whose body of work somehow raised cinema’s over-all IQ; whose formal invention, culturally informed narrative and personal film style was not just greatly felt and greatly expressed cinema, but also critiqued and rudely gestured back at dominant notions of what cinema should do and be. Even alongside this exulted company, Ruiz’s cinema excelled and exceeded. He was probably the superior film craftsman, with his films of the 1990s and 2000s amongst the most handsome of European costume art cinema – films David Thomson suggested were Ruiz’s 'grudging admission … that if trapped into a corner, with enough money offered, he could put together a films as sumptuous as Visconti (and) actually far more elegant’. He went further than any filmmaker in reinventing what was understood to be the craft and cultural value of literary adaptation, his films continually trading, quoting, paraphrasing as well as adapting his own meta-library of writers, indifferent to whether they were internationally canonical and high-brow (Proust, Dante, Shakespeare, Kafka, Racine Borges, Márquez), pulpy and sentimental (Robert Louis Stevenson) or from the undiscovered or lost realms of global literature and regional languages and cultures (Portugal’s Camilo Castelo Branco, Italy’s Massimo Bontempelli, France’s Jean Giono and a range of less familiar Latin American writers).
And he was willing to put cinema theory (on which he published as well, in books such as Poetics of Cinema 1 and 2) to practice as often and as causally as possible, mixing and matching references to a parallel canon of classic and B cinema (Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, ‘Golden Age’ Mexican and Argentine comedies of the 1940s and ‘50s, Roger Corman horror movies of the 1950s and ‘60s) with those from literature. As Jonathan Rosenbaum argued, his work 'seems to combine some aspect of the laboratory and the playpen, usually redefining what we mean by ‘serious’ and ‘unserious’ in the process’.
It’s for that – and maybe because – his work is a major hunting and gathering project for film completionists, no filmmaker is more respected by an almost cult circle of international film critics, who seek out, swap and treasure rare byways in his nebulous filmography. This is maybe as it should be, reflecting his films and characters. It does, however, make a comprehensive survey season impossible. Instead, here’s a sample that just touches on a handful of films we can be certain Ruiz made – and that every lover of and maker of cinema needs to see to understand what narrative cinema’s outer limits are. These will also be Canberra premiere chances to see two of Ruiz’s last films: The Mysteries of Lisbon (in a limited release season) and his final work, La noche de enfrente, screened posthumously at this year’s Cannes Director’s Fortnight.
Presented in collaboration with The Melbourne Cinematheque and with the assistance of Embassy of France and L’Institut Français. Thanks to: Emmanuelle Denavit-Feller (Embassy of France); Le Bureau Films; Andrew Youdell (British Film Institute); Michael Koller, Michelle Carey (Melbourne Cinematheque); Valeria Sarmiento and the estate of Raul Ruiz.
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