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88 Ratings

On Top of the Whale

Het dak van de Walvis

Directed by Raúl Ruiz
Netherlands, 1982


A parody of anthropology, linguistics, and cultural imperialism. The film follows an unlikely team of linguists into the wilds of an ersatz Patagonia to study the last speakers of a dying language. That language apparently consists of a single word, which therefore means everything.

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On Top of the Whale Directed by Raúl Ruiz

Critics reviews

Amber filters and painterly compositions present handsome tableaux with little in the way of traditional “film grammar”. Within a dialogue exchange, Ruiz is as likely to cut to an eerie, static shot of the manor (endlessly repeated) as he is to an overhead shot of the participants. Oneiric, soft imagery echoes and supports the streams of different tongues flowing in and out of one another. Meanings both visual and verbal radiate into the ether, producing a chaos of atoms unwilling to coalesce.
February 18, 2018
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At one level a parody of contemporary Western man’s remoteness from the pre-industrial Third World, the film is no less a comedy about the anthropological peculiarities of his own tribal customs, intellectual and otherwise. But this theme in turn is intermittently interrupted or at least complicated by purely visual explorations in colour, composition, perspective, texture and camera placement which pursue the language theme through formal metaphors.
January 01, 1990
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