Raúl Ruiz, 1941 - 2011

Remembering the great Chilean filmmaker and writer.
David Hudson

Catherine Grant has tweeted a link to the shocking news as reported by El Mostrador: Raúl Ruiz, widely considered the most important filmmaker to have come from Chile, has died in Paris at the age of 70. The funeral will be held on Tuesday morning.


Ruiz on MUBI

Update, 8/22: Depending on where you are in the world, you can watch these Ruiz films here on MUBI: Three Lives and Only One Death (1996), Genealogies of a Crime (1997) and That Day (2003).

Just a few weeks ago, the New York Times' AO Scott profiled Ruiz, director of more than "100 films in several languages and also, in his spare time, a theater director and film theorist of some renown in Europe and beyond. He has taught at Harvard, adapted the last volume of Proust into a feature film, transformed several of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tales into a dark, surrealist comedy starring Marcello Mastroianni and made the life of the Viennese painter Gustav Klimt into a fractured biopic starring John Malkovich. His forays into North America have included the twisty psychological thriller Shattered Image, starring William Baldwin and Anne Parillaud, and The Golden Boat, a New York mock-policier with appearances by Jim Jarmusch, Kathy Acker and Annie Sprinkle…. There is something old-fashioned about Ruiz — his literary enthusiasms, his compulsive collecting, the calm, amused tone in which he expresses these benign manias. And he seems to make films the way a 19th-century polymath might write, without the strain and anxiety that so often mark the modern creative temperament. His movies, though, are anything but antiquarian, even (or perhaps especially) when they are populated by costumed specters drawn from classic books. Time Regained is the perfect adaptation of Proust, because it feels less like a respectful homage to a venerable author than like a movie Proust himself might have made: Ruiz captures the essential Proustian experience of being simultaneously at odds with and at home in the present, aware of the perpetual slippage of past into future. And that may be a version of the essential Ruizian sensation."

Alt Screen ran a roundup on Time Regained just yesterday and Ruiz's 2010 saga Mysteries of Lisbon is currently screening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. See our reviews from Daniel Kasman and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and roundups from last year's Toronto and New York film festivals.

In 2004, Rouge published an annotated filmography. Catherine Grant has begun collecting relevant essays from various film journals at Film Studies for Free.

In 2006, Michael J Anderson called Three Crowns of a Sailor (1983) "a work that surely rates among the decade's dozen or so best films, no matter what clandestine masterworks may be revealed to us next." And here's his review of Mysteries of Lisbon, "the director's career in 272-minute microcosm — its subject that springs forth finally from memory (in the image of Time Regained) and its figures whose identities and even self-hoods prove as fluid as the film's time and space. The director's latest emerges as a new signature accomplishment, a masterpiece no doubt for the director, and also a worthy companion to Manoel de Oliveira's supreme masterwork culled from the same authorial source, Doomed Love (1978). There could be no greater compliment to Ruiz's latest than this."

Christoph Hochhäusler posts a passage from Ruiz's book, Poetics of Cinema and Michael Lieberman posts one from Poetics of Cinema 2; Glenn Kenny has one from In Pursuit of Treasure Island.

"Earlier this year he shot La noche de enfrente, a Chile-set film inspired by his childhood," reports Wendy Mitchell for Screen. "Also recently he has worked on projects about the life of French novelist Jean Giono and one based on the memoirs of Napoleon's generals (which reportedly had frequent collaborator Melvil Poupaud attached to star.) He had undergone a liver transplant after being diagnosed with liver cancer when he was making Mysteries of Lisbon. Ruiz is survived by his wife Valéria Sarmiento, a film director and editor."

"Although a vast majority of his films never received US distribution, Ruiz has maintained his status as an internationally renowned filmmaker for several decades," writes indieWIRE's Eric Kohn. "His first feature, Three Sad Tigers, won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival in 1968. After leaving Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in the early 1970s, Ruiz resettled in France and continued his prolific output. There he garnered acclaim for a string of surrealist works, including The Hypothesis of a Stolen Painting and Three Crowns of a Sailor, which played at the New York Film Festival in 1985. Among the films released in the US during this time, the dreamlike City of Pirates landed on several critics' top ten lists in 1985."

"Ruiz's passing at 70 represents a tremendous loss for contemporary filmmaking," blogs Dave Kehr. "After a relatively fallow decade, he seemed to be have recovered his fierce creativity with Mysteries of Lisbon, which won the Prix Louis Delluc last year and is currently playing in US art houses. I had the pleasure of spending time with him on several occasions. He was a remarkably warm and generous person, dazzlingly well read and gifted with one of the liveliest intelligences I have ever encountered."

"Baroque imagery, bizarre humor and labyrinthine plots made his elusive and allusive oeuvre unlike anything else in contemporary cinema," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "Although most of his films were made while he was an exile in France, his work was part of the fabulist tradition that runs through much Latin American literature, such as the writings of Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges and Alfonso Reyes. Ruiz liked to quote the Cuban surrealist writer José Lezama Lima, who stated that the task of the poet is 'to go into a dark room and build a waterfall there.' … Ruiz and his fellow directors Miguel Littin, Aldo Francia and Helvio Soto made up Chile's brief 'new wave' during that creative period just before and during the presidency of Salvador Allende. Ruiz's La Colonia Penal (The Penal Colony, 1970), a bitterly ironic version of Kafka's story, concerned torture and military dictatorship, foreshadowing what was soon to happen in Chile."

Sean O'Neal at the AV Club: "His films, philosophical yet playful, often deal with the nature of truth and perception while utilizing the notions of parallel realities and identities; few were as willing to toy with the viewer on such a consistent basis."

"Ruiz was Ruiz and Ruizian is a concept that has long since been part of film critical apparatus"

"Ruiz was a legend in Europe, the subject of entire issues of Cahiers du Cinema, the recipient of the Rotterdam Film Festival's first lifetime achievement award, well before his Three Crowns of the Sailor was included in the 1984 New York Film Festival — and failed to make him a household name." J Hoberman: "More than a few Voice readers (and even some writers) complained about the praise that I lavished on this esoteric figure and several years later I made a tongue-in-cheek attempt to pigeonhole him: 'Now that the Film Forum has opened two Raul Ruiz films in a single month, it may be that 1988 will be the year one no longer needs to explain just who the double-hey huh? is this dude with B-movie monicker — e.g. the Godard of the 80s, Mister early-Borges-plus-middle-period Welles, a Barthesian Bunuel, the Edgar G Ulmer of the European art film, a Third World H Rider Haggard, the Garcia Marquez of French TV.' The fact is Ruiz was Ruiz and Ruizian is a concept that has long since been part of film critical apparatus."

Fernando F Croce on The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1979): "The bone-dry drollery is inspired by De Sadean artist Pierre Klossowski, but the liquidity of storytelling and arch spatial stratagems are Ruiz's, with the frozen models (Jean Reno, Bernard Daillencourt, Alfred Baillou, and Jean Narboni are among the human mannequins) supplying the equivalent of the freeze-frame style of Colloque de Chiens. Sasha Vierny's cinematography clinches the closing jibe at L'Année Dernière à Marienbad, static visions vivified by tracking shots, and by the auteur's impish analysis."

Fernando in 2006 for Slant: "Compared to the pyrotechnics of Three Lives and Only One Death or Time Regained, That Day remains linear, though Ruiz's plot, set in Switzerland 'in the near future,' scores just as high on the what-the-fuck meter….  That Day is a Chabrolian parody, just as Colloque de Chiens is a goof on Fassbinder and Shattered Image is an erotic thriller send-up, though Ruiz's off-kilter elegance welcomes (and rewards) multiple readings. The whimsy often seems about to dissolve before your eyes, yet the director's faith in cinematic expression, mirroring the heroine's faith in fallen angels, keeps it floating like a weightless toy." And he's reviewed Mysteries of Lisbon for Slant as well.

"He began making films when he was in his 30s, which means he averaged about two movies a year, and, if a single film was a world unto itself, his movies taken together amount to a surrealist galaxy of psychic wormholes, intellectual pockets of time, and unsurpassed whimsy," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris.

"Ruiz is the least neurotic of filmmakers"

Jonathan Rosenbaum, in an essay that appeared in different versions in 1987 and 1990: "From one point of view, at least, any attempt to chart the breadth and unity of Ruiz's works in film and video threatens to become a betrayal of that work. If the map suppresses the labyrinth, it is always possible that the cultish desire to possess Ruiz's oeuvre as a coherent entity works against many of Ruiz's own strategies. An anti-auteurist par excellence, Ruiz proceeds partially by subterfuge and anonymity, addressing many of his works to an audience whose responsiveness is largely predicated on not knowing who he is or even precisely what he is up to." Then, in 1997, he wrote another long essay for Film Comment which "recasts a few of the same arguments, but generally the aim here is to correct, augment, and update many of my earlier remarks rather than duplicate them." A bit further in: "Within my experience, Ruiz is the least neurotic of filmmakers; he doesn't even seem to care whether what he's doing is good or not (and, as he's aptly noted, bad work and good work generally entail the same amount of effort)."

"For some of us in the New York independent film world, Raul played a brief but crucial role in our formation." For Filmmaker, James Schamus recalls working with his idol on the first film he ever produced, The Golden Boat. "The screenplay, by Federico Muchnik, who now teaches film in Boston, was a hilariously deadpan, blood-soaked, surreal romp through the New York art world. Jordi Torrent, who has since produced some beautiful independent work here and in Spain, produced alongside me. The late great New York avant-garde theater legend Michael Kirby starred, along with many members of The Wooster Group, for which I'd been doing some work at the time. Our production team included Robin O'Hara and Scott Macaulay, who've since gone on to produce something like 30 of the most interesting independent films out there… Our assistant director was none other than Christine Vachon, and Maryse Alberti (whose recent work includes The Wrestler) shot the film. Jim Denault, who has since become a major cinematographer himself (Maria Full of Grace), was the key grip…. John Zorn composed the score. And lots of the current New York film scene had a variety of roles to play on the film: Scott Hamrah, for example, who now oversees with great critical perception the film writing at N+1, worked as our assistant editor; Filmmmaker's senior editor Peter Bowen can be found as a blood-soaked extra in a particularly mordant scene…. For some, the film was an experience and a notch on a resume; for others, like me, it was a decisive moment, when the Master arrived, and made of us, through his generosity and acceptance, not students, but colleagues."

"If you can make it complicated, why make it simple?"

Update, 8/20: When Ruiz arrived in France, "he translated his personal situation into a film, Dialogue of Exiles (1974), about a group of displaced Chileans struggling to find a footing in Paris," writes William Grimes in the New York Times. "He then embarked on a series of films made for European television, notably the dislocated, experimental Man Scattered and World Upside Down (1975), made for German television, and The Suspended Vocation (1977) and The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1978), both made for French television. In the early 1980s he returned to theatrical filmmaking, beginning with The Territory, co-produced by Roger Corman, which followed the fortunes of a group of tourists who lose their way in the forest and descend into barbarism. In the absurdist, parable-like Top of the Whale, also made in 1981, an anthropologist studying the last two members of an Indian tribe in Tierra del Fuego finds that they speak a language consisting of one word…. [H]e played expertly with, and slyly confounded, conventional notions of storytelling, character and point of view. 'If you can make it complicated, why make it simple?' he said in an interview at the 2004 Rotterdam film festival."

Updates, 8/21: "Like many brilliant South Americans of his generation, he approached European literature and art of the previous centuries with a wryly reverent eye," writes the L's Mark Asch. "[H]is 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."

"The only film course I've ever taught was on Ruiz; I've proselytized for him (as many long-suffering friends will report) at every opportunity." Jeremy M Davies at Big Other: "The best way to mourn Ruiz is perhaps to play with some model trains while suffering from massive head trauma and being observed by a blindfolded woman in white behind a two-way mirror. I hope you'll join me in doing so."

Craig Keller.

Just a sampling from Adrian Martin's must-read remembrance at Girish Shambu's place: "The importance of Ruiz as a theorist of film has, I believe, been criminally underrated and overlooked. In many essays throughout his life (such as those given to Positif), in the brilliant Poetics of Cinema book series for Dis Voir (alas, now unfinished), and especially in his manifesto-like 'The Six Functions of the Shot,' Ruiz probed, with infinite care and patience, the mysteries and possibilities of every linkage and liaison in cinema: cuts, camera movements, sounds, gestures, shadows, narrative and non-narrative events … And no less important, on this level, were his more obviously creative pieces (film, play and radio scripts, novels, the 'notes for actors' that he provided on all his later projects, and the literally hundreds of in-depth interviews he gave in many languages): Ruiz never ceased elaborating, teasing out, refining and extending his often extraordinary (and only seemingly whimsical) ideas. His life was one continuous 'thought experiment,' as the logicians say."

Updates, 8/22: For Time's Richard Corliss, Mysteries of Lisbon "is a labyrinth that fully rewards the challenge of watching it and does lead to clarity, resolution and grace, in a final Pieta that is both anguished and angelic. In a TV interview, Ruiz spoke of his pleasure in immersing himself in this serial drama. 'The satisfaction felt was of a return to the past — to when I was 21, 22 years old, and helping to direct soap operas in Mexico and in Chile. So it's like closing the cycle. The cycle has been closed.' For this inexhaustibly protean filmmaker, the cycle was closed prematurely."

Daniel Kasman's posted Jill Evans's 1988 documentary on Ruiz, Exiles.

Update, 8/23: Patrick Z McGavin recalls interviewing Ruiz in Chicago 18 or 19 years ago: "We spent probably an hour or so together, and he kept gracefully extending the previously allotted time because he had more he wanted to talk about, especially Orson Welles and John Ford. My experience mirrored that of many others. I found him alternately charming, lovely, graceful and deeply humane. He was self-deprecating and very accessible emotionally. One of my last and most cherished memories is watching him hold, in three different languages, simultaneous conversations at a reception in Venice."

Update, 8/25: Joseph Jon Lanthier and Marisa Sae Nakasone discuss Ruiz at the House Next Door.

Updates, 8/26: "With the death of Raúl Ruiz on Friday 19 August, cinema has lost a dimension — an entirely alternative one, foreign to the familiar laws of film language and practice." Jonathan Romney for Sight & Sound: "We may find ourselves wondering now whether Ruiz ever really existed, or whether his wildly expansive oeuvre was the stuff of dream, an entirely apocryphal career like those of the imaginary writers hypothesised in recent years by his fellow Chilean fabulist Roberto Bolaño."

"From the mid-1960s through 1975, it seems to me, there emerged an interesting in-between group of filmmakers," writes David Bordwell before sketching a line between those "canonized an official art cinema" and "a more capricious clutch of directors." He then turns to Ruiz: "What set him apart from the other marginals was a devotion to esoterica (philosophical, literary, ecclesiastical), pursued with a sly humor. He remarked that during one screening, he was the only person laughing at his movie. Although like most of his contemporaries his sympathies lay on the left, he didn’t seem to take himself seriously, and this put him at a disadvantage in 1970s-1980s world film culture. True, Herzog had a comic side, and in The Falls Greenaway offered whimsy, though of a relentless, almost oppressive variety. Most other directors, though, were somber as well as severe. But Ruiz enjoyed intellectual lampoon, pastiche, clever cross-references, and straight-faced absurdity; the Chris Marker of Letter from Siberia (1957) is perhaps a predecessor, though Marker himself didn’t escape Ruizian parody."

Update, 8/30: "Obsessed with the multiplicative nature of storytelling, his work branched narratives, opened up parallel worlds and rendered dreams more real than reality," writes R Emmet Sweeney for TCM. "They often feel like a serial drama happening all at once, the plot twists layered one on top of the other in a dissolve or superimposition. Raised on robust American trash like Flash Gordon, Ruiz's films are overflowing with wild incident (he later wrote scripts for the brash anti-realism of Mexican telenovelas). He embraced their  irruptions of logical narrative order, and also found delight in the 'mistakes' of higher-budgeted productions:

For years I watched so-called Greco-Latin films (toga flicks, with early Christians devoured by lions, emperors in love, and son on). My only interest in those films was to catch sight of planes and helicopters in the background, to discover the eternal DC6 crossing the sky during Ben Hur's final race, Cleopatra's naval battle, or the Quo Vadis banquets. That was my particular fetish, my only interest. For me all those films, the innumerable tales of Greco-Latinity, all partook of the single story of a DC6 flying discreetly from one film to the next.

"Ruiz always followed the plane, that is, he let the image determine the story, rather than vice versa. If a plane entered the frame, that dictated that a new tale had to be written: 'It [the image-situation] serves as a bridge, an airport, for the multiple films that will coexist in the film that is finally seen.'"

Update, 8/31: Roderick Heath on Mysteries of Lisbon.

Update, 9/1: "Even if he arguably started out as a kind of low-rent Ulmer, he also, no less arguably, wound up as a kind of gilt-edged (or guilt-edged) Preminger." Do read these two paragraphs from Jonathan Rosenbaum, a follow-up entry on his 1997 piece.

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