Mistérios de Lisboa
Portugal/France, 2010, 272 min
The noble and the damned are interchangeable and identical in Raúl Ruiz’s magisterial new gambit on the art of storytelling, based on Camilo Castelo Branco’s 19th-century Portuguese novel yet more mind-bending and radical than any contemporary tale. A young boy in a Lisbon orphanage wonders who he is, but soon each and every identity comes into question, especially as flashbacks, flash-forwards and tales within tales begin to spiral forth. A priest may be a fighter, a wealthy man a highway robber and a noblewoman a nun. “But who are you?” asks someone. It all may depend on the story you’re in, and who is telling the tale. What remains constant is the sumptuous setting: a decadent Old World Portugal of crumbling estates, extravagant ballrooms and fog-bound dueling fields. No stranger to epic novel adaptations (his Time Regained (SFIFF 2000) adapted Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past with similar flair), Ruiz treats his material with consummate respect and a baroque, Borgesian grandeur, constantly framing shots within shots and actions within actions. A tale of tales, of orphans, counts and duels, this costume meta-drama is Dickens filtered through a surrealist’s gaze, and a fitting summation of Ruiz’s artistry. Originally made as a miniseries for Portuguese television (this four-hour theatrical version was cut from the six-hour original), Mysteries of Lisbon is said by the director to be his final film.
In Portuguese and French with subtitles. Total running time with intermission 272 min.