Cinema is actually magic & dreams & nightmares are all completely true & cameras can do shit your dumb eyeballs can't. Ruiz's film is like Leonora Carrington's novel 'The Stone Door': full of shifting identities, occult rituals, and images that shake the subconscious.
Maya Deren's nightmares would probably feel something like this. Defying explanation, the surrealist narrative of the film interchanges sexuality and death, reality and dreams, identity and memory. The masterful opening shot, where the camera tries to escape the sickly world of the film through an open window only to be forcefully shut back in, tells you everything you need to know about the intentions of Ruiz
Come on! How has no one mentioned that this is an allegory on post Franco Spain? Including the 1981 coup d'etat... The cities of the North who give trouble, the decaying general at the end... San Sebastian! Watch the film with this in mind and you'll peel back another layer. Otherwise, it's like The Princess Bride took qualudes and ended up having a bad trip.
While Ruiz had come to cinema very much the unschooled amateur, by the early 80s he had evolved into a master (though still essentially an amateur of decidedly modest means). The complicated Russian-doll stories he tells, often riven w/ split identities and dominated by opaque machinations, speak to the influence of Latin American literature. His visual style (utterly remarkable) begins to owe much to Welles.
The surrealistic movies are not exempt from some intrinsic rules that are usually deemed mandatory only for the realistic movies: without them there can be neither fear nor pity, nor therefore catharsis. Here there is no trace of these rules: if were not for the superb direction and the nonsense poetry, it should not be considered an acceptable work.
Not merely dream-like, but literally a dream that was transposed to celluloid in the Year of Our Lord Don Sebastian. The best guide-book to living beautifully in a horrible world embodied by the giant perfumed feet of a moustachioed cad. Also, a warning / endorsement of séances, depending on how you take it.