Let me start by saying, this film redeemed my entire week. After obtaining tickets to The Guard, Winnie The Pooh, Love Crime and The Devil's Double at the Los Angeles Film Festival this week, Mysteries of Lisbon was the only screening I was able to attend. I had never heard of Raoul Ruiz or his plethora of features. My only introduction to this 257 minute film (that's over four hours) was a picture on the LAFF website and the knowledge of its patience-trying running time, not the greatest source of inspiration for a film with a start time of 7pm. But, after David Ansen, Artistic Director of the festival, finished his opening remarks, praising Ruiz as an artist and visual story telling master, I was strapped in and ready to feast my eyes on the images coming to life on the screen.
This film was sumptuous in every way (the man next to me kept saying, "Oh my god, that's gorgeous" over and over and over again throughout the first thirty minutes). Ruiz creates a story which constantly intertwines the playfulness of fiction and the cold dark truths of reality. One of the ways in which Ruiz utilizes fantasy to tell his story is by incorporating a puppet stage, filled with all the characters from the film as paper cut-outs. He uses this stage to set up the tableau in the next scene, using these make believe characters to come to life (so to speak) into their real life counterparts.
The film follows three (you could argue more) main protagonists, all with hidden identities, all with dark and painful pasts. The beauty of the story is in the ways in which all of these characters come to find out who they truly are and how their lives had always been inextricably intertwined. Giving away the secrets would defeat the purpose of the film that Ruiz set out to create, so I will not attempt to do so here. His film is a woven tale of woe, we discover the characters as they discover themselves. This film is about secrets and the way they haunt our lives till the very end.
Ruiz narrative would be incomplete without the incredible art direction by Isabel Branco and set decoration by Paula Szabo. These two women create the world in which Ruiz characters get to breathe and it's a gorgeous world of muted colors and deep greens, you can truly lose yourself within the frame. The cinematography by Andre Szankowski has an indelible impact on the audience. He constantly plays with filters and alters his depth of field in moments of frustration, confusion, and utter loss. The camera work in this film is a journey all by itself.
In an industry which has lost itself in large studio pictures in order to secure a "big bang for their buck", this film was an experience I will never forget. This film helps me to remember why I moved here in the first place and helps me to have faith in filmmakers willing to take a chance on a cinematic experience that they know their audience still craves. It also continues to strengthen my resolve to participate in the festival experience, because films like this need to breathe, they need to flicker to life on screen in front of a captivated audience, they need someone to believe in them.
Mother and Son reunited at last
A love triangle with a tragic end
Just feast your eyes on this gorgeousness.
A lover's quarrel
By her son's fevered bedside.
(All captions are vague, spoiling this film would be wrong in so many ways.)