The Mysteries of Lisbon: part two
2 September 2012, 4:30pm
6 September 2012, 7pm
20 September 2012, 2pm
Ticketing information, bookings (02) 6248 2000
The Mysteries of Lisbon: part two
(Mistérios de Lisboa) Dir: Raúl Ruiz, France/Portugal, 145mins, DCP
In the decadent, secretive, post-Napoleonic Lisbon of the early 19th century, orphan ‘João’ Pedro da Silva is protected by Father Dinnis, the master of his boarding school and keeper of the boy’s deep secret: he is the illegitimate son of the beautiful Countess Ângela de Lima. In time Dinnis reveals to Pedro his own secret past: as a sort of early 19th century superhero; once Sebastião de Melo the well-connected aristocratic; then Sabino Cabra, freedom fighter; since then adopter of countless identities, defender of just causes, and enemy of cant and corruption. As the voice-over of the adult ‘João’ Pedro (who will appear on screen as the film evolves) recalls this childhood and Dinnis’ romantic stories, a swirl of memories conjures up other characters that seem at first tangential, but who become increasingly central to his story: his real father, Don Pedro; the lethal Marquis of Montezelos, from whom ‘João’ Pedro must hide; the cruel pirate Knife-Eater, turned roguish Brazilian entrepreneur, Alberto. There stories sometimes seem to be ‘João’ Pedro’s memories; at other times, a fantasy about characters that he is bringing to life in the little puppet theatre his mother brings him as a child.
Posthumous films are still emerging to cap-off the end of the late director Raúl Ruiz’s 100 plus feature film career. Yet the critical consensus is clear: this four hour plus adaptation of one of Portuguese 19th century literature’s classics is probably the director’s final masterpiece. Like his version of Proust’s Time Regained, it’s a perfect match between source and adaptor. The ‘Portuguese Balzac’ – priest-turned libertine novelist-turned national cultural treasure, Camilo Castelo Branco (also a favourite source for the septuagenarian Portuguese master film maker with whom Ruiz has often been compared, Manoel de Olivera) – is exactly the sort of literary source the eclectic Raúl Ruiz has always been interested in. As writing, the 1850s original was slightly occult, arcane (at least internationally; but typically for Ruiz in fact a familiar, treasured classic to the speakers and readers of a less familiar national literature). It’s fulsomely expressive as writing … and somehow for that reason all the more available to the elliptic style of Ruiz’s cinematic narrative. As a screen adaptation The Mysteries of Lisbon is a masked ball of romantic motivations and shifting identities; of nobles denied their entitlement, heroic catholic priests and brooding ex-colonials with a dark past; of sight and sound plays of obscure language, reference and classical knowledge. It’s perhaps also a modest tribute to Ruiz’s long-time producer: the Portuguese Paulo Branco. Yet Camilo Castelo Branco’s writings probably offered a last wistful expression of Ruiz own role as a political exile, deeply steeped in European cultural heritage, but (like ‘João’ Pedro, or Father Dinis) never quite certain of his relationship to it.
'A magisterial meditation on narrative and cinema, Mysteries of Lisbon is the most glorious achievement of Raúl Ruiz’s prodigious career and one of the first cinematic masterpieces of this century’ (Film Comment).
Canberra premiere season. Screens in two parts.