Notebook is unfurling a series of tributes to Raúl Ruiz entitled Blind Man's Bluff: along with some previously published articles, here in English for the first time, the bulk a compilation of new, shorter pieces from a few generous critics and Ruizians on favorite moments from a vast, subterranean filmography. For more from Raúl Ruiz: Blind Man's Bluff see the Table of Contents.
COFRALANDES, CHILEAN RHAPSODY (2002)
There's a scene in Cofralandes, Chilean Rhapsody, the series of documentaries (?) for which Ruiz returned to Chilean filmmaking in 2002, that seems fascinating to me for its strangeness. Without any rational justification, Ruiz, who acts in the film, takes a TV remote and talks into it as if it were a cordless phone. It's one of those scenes that seem to have been dreamt by the viewer, but turn out to be revealing of different aspects of Ruiz as filmmaker. First of all, the use of whatever's closest at hand so not to lose time on production hassles (and so one actor is exchanged for another, one script for another, one country for another, and in this case, the small detail of one prop for another, however absurd the switch).
But there's also the Ruizian humor: unusual, unexpected, irreverent, even incomprehensible. And we might also see that distrust Ruiz always harbored for anything with the pretense of authenticity. For if Ruiz never made distinctions between truth and fiction, fantasy and reality, characters from art and characters from history: why would he make them between a remote control and a telephone? —Quintín
From the films of the 1950s (such as those by Mankiewicz and Preminger) to today (Pedro Costa, Lisandro Alonso), we witness an intriguing hollowing-out of the special event of encounter between two people on screen. In Raúl Ruiz’s Klimt, the encounter of the artist (John Malkovich as Gustav Klimt) with his Muse (Saffron Burrows as Lea de Castro) is something that seems to happen multiple times, but then again never truly seems to happen at all: the woman is always an apparition, a shadow, a silhouette; she is also literally a multiple being, distributed over several bodies, and a sinister behind-the-scenes figure boasts of ‘collecting,’ and carefully depositing, in pre-staged scenes, all the available versions of her.
Klimt’s first glimpse of this woman who will come to mean so much in his mind and his art is not even ‘in the flesh;’ it is on a movie screen, in one of the first projections by George Méliès! No longer the typical, driven femme fatale with a hidden agenda, this female figure is all at once a metaphysical phantom, a personalised fantasy and a con-game conjured by others. Intriguingly, Ruiz has declared that Spinoza—theorist of the encounter and its decisive mood-changes—is the philosopher most pertinent to the exploration (practical and theoretical) of cinema. —Adrian Martin
A CLOSED BOOK (2010)
In contemporary, rationalist fantasies of Nolan, Cameron, et al., theory always seems to precede action; an invented science and arbitrary logic must account for every gesture on-screen. Nothing is done without explanation, tutorials. The approach can seem a rebuke to more withholding detective stories, films like Ministry of Fear or Phantom Lady that a decade ago directors from Lynch to Kubrick seemed to be skewing from anything but their own formal logic: the fun of the story in the detecting, in a splay of free-floating clues meaningful only for their inexplicability, as much as in the unavoidable explanation that ties them together at the origin. In these unmoored films, nearly parodies of genre archetypes, significance is only a matter of mood: a primal logic of rhythm, suspense, doublings, and furtive, inscrutable glances in the seeds of unsprung, phantom narratives. In which the inadequacy of any explanation is what sustains the mood more than any screenwriter’s contrivances.
As A Closed Book plays neatly by its anti-logic—entombed in his mansion, a blind art critic (Tom Conti) who’s afraid of the dark and dresses in front of a mirror hires an assistant (Daryl Hannah) who walks around naked in the dark, rearranges his furniture, and spins improvised new stories about Madonna 'gunned down by some druggie outside the groucho club'—the logical explanation for why a blind man acts like he can see, and his seeing-eye avatar pretends to be blind to the world altogether, becomes both more inevitable and more unlikely. And because Ruiz’s film plays by the book, it slots in the most inevitable and unlikely reason of all, with terrible taste and Freudian literal-mindedness. The assistant has been seeking revenge; her brother killed himself over a bad review; the art critic alleged his paintings as literalizations of a pedophilic fantasies; the suicide only validated his claims; and, as long as the movie’s breaking shaggy revelations, the critic knew what he was talking about because he too has felt such urges. The bad artist, he says: it’s me.
So at the moment when A Closed Book is cornered into cheap interpretations, to explain itself as nothing more than these literalizations of characters’ logical motives, it has them confronting the issue themselves, bawling at gunpoint over art criticism and the matter of whether art can so easily be reduced to an illustration of character’s one-track psychologies. Bullshit, says Hannah, but as a plot point she’s the proof.
Ruiz’s wonderful movie, of course, works otherwise, as a parody of the movie it’s not: unlikely that Ruiz, after spending a career’s bulk fingering all outward actions as illusory apparitions and all internal mindsets as the interchangeable perceptions of viewers—authors, narrators, characters, and spectators navigating the same projections, the same emotional and geographical maps onto the world around them—would submit to such a simple psychological code of action-as-thought. And so the movie follows its dramatic logic to a blind man with a pistol who listens where to shoot. However useful psychology is for plotting motivations, and motivating plot, the explanations only highlight their own inadequacy. The movie’s two characters, like so many Ruiz figures, don’t so much act out their own fantasies, like Hollywood heroes or pedophilic pornographers, but seem to inhabit each other’s. —David Phelps
MYSTERIES OF LISBON (2010)
More and more, I become convinced that films don’t live lives of their own, but live alongside each other in our memory, each withdrawing into each other’s shadows like the protagonist’s own life in the final scene of Mysteries of Lisbon. As for me, this moment and the general mood—ghostly, dim—of Time Regained come together in a single memory; a scene that exists only in my mind and that sums up Ruiz’s cinema, the layers superimposed, one time covering another, spaces folded over themselves. Reality, finally, as an accumulation of the imaginary's inner workings—workings at once joyous and melancholy. —Carlos Losilla
Texts by Quintín and Carlos Losilla translated from Spanish by David Phelps and reviewed by the authors.