Raul Ruiz, the Chilean-born filmmaker whose visually detailed, playfully recursive, literary films invented a cinematic language for archaic modes of storytelling and intellectual inquiry, has died in his adopted hometown of Paris; he was 70, and still very active, and his death has come as a something of a shock to many cinephiles on this side of the Atlantic.
Ruiz was born in Chile, and after getting his start in TV soap operas he decamped for Europe when Pinochet came to power. Like many brilliant South Americans of his generation, he approached European literature and art of the previous centuries with a wryly reverent eye; his films employ sometimes cheaply ornate period detail, impossible camera movements (often aided digitally in later years), and a free philosophical hand to explore the story’s hidden corners.
Ruiz’s prolific (over 100 directing credits) and eclectic (adaptations of Proust and Robert Louis Stevenson; art lectures and artist biopics) filmography, to say nothing of its sometimes spotty American exposure, makes a comprehensive reckoning a challenging for all but his most regular and dedicated followers, but it also makes his a worthy subject for further research. His death comes as his 2010 film, Mysteries of Lishttp://posting.thelmagazine.com/newyork/Blogs/Admin/Post?mode=entry&entryid=2171674&blogid=1143409bon, the story of a 19th century foundling, adapted from a classic Portuguese novel, makes its way through US theaters; it’s playing at Lincoln Center’s new first-run screen, the Elinor Bunim Munroe, through at least next Thursday the 25th. When it opened last month, The L’s Nicolas Rapold quoted Ruiz, in his Poetics of Cinema:
For years I have dreamed of filming events that could move from one dimension into another, and that could be broken down into images occupying different dimensions, all with the sole aim of being able to add, multiply, or divide them, and reconstitute them at will.
Nic notes, not entirely approvingly, that the film “at times feels as if it could recursively expand indefinitely,” while admiring the way it ultimately very movingly “confronts the multiple trapdoors of origins and identity.”
The film is, like many of Ruiz’s, kind of a bear at four-plus hours of running time (it was six hours on French TV). When the film played at the New York Film Festival last fall, the L’s Miriam Bale expressed some surprise the film wasn’t “a little more of a mess,” that in fact “Ruiz is a film maestro who in this film leads his viewer’s eyes with specific, though rich, intentions.”
The film is not Ruiz’s last: Dave Kehr, reading Le Monde‘s obituary, quotes Ruiz’s producer saying that the filmmaker had been editing a film about his childhood in Chile. He was also planning another project on the Napoleonic wars, rumored to star Mathieu Amalric and John Malkovich.
And his 1983 film Three Crowns of a Sailor is on YouTube, collected in one place by Mubi.