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Raúl Ruiz's "On Top of the Whale" (1982)

Watch this Ruiz which "encases a rich barrage of ideas in the skin of a mock fable, set in a vaguely futuristic parallel universe."

"Raúl Ruiz's films are zesty experiments in elaborate esoteria, the more obscure the better. Just one of the four movies he cranked out in 1982, this humid head-scratcher (subtitled "A Film About Survival") encases a rich barrage of ideas in the skin of a mock fable, set in a vaguely futuristic parallel universe. The plot follows a Dutch anthropologist couple (Jean Badin, Willeke van Ammelrooy) who bump into "communist millionaire" Fernando Bordeu at the Malcolm X Hotel and accept an invitation to his island manor in Patagonia to chart the linguists of the last two survivors of a massacred tribe -- while Badin loses himself in studying and eventually domesticizing the natives (whose language, reinvented daily, consists of sixty words with roughly a hundred different inflections each), Ammelrooy and Bordeu forge their own Last Year in Marienbad love connection. Mirrors get buried and tongues get cut before the film reaches its nonconclusion, sailing through amber filters, androgynous kids, and anecdotes that go nowhere and take forever to get there. Ruiz's images would be painterly if he ever allowed them to solidify -- instead he keeps them shifting like sand, as mercurial as the sprinkled concepts (with cultural colonialism a recurring motif) and the languages often switched mid-sentence (Dutch, French, Spanish and English get spouted throughout). Keeping the arabesques drolly, pleasurably baffling, Ruiz skewers cultural sturdiness by distilling the elusiveness of the meanings randomly attached to language, words, gender and, of course, cinematic images."

—Fernando F. Croce, CINEPASSION


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