Colloque de chiens, 1977
Dogs' Dialogue opens to a shot of an abandoned dog that has been tied to the structural frame of a discarded piece of broken furniture at a derelict open field, territorially barking to ward off an unleashed, stray dog hovering nearby. The image of vicious, primal social interaction carries through to an idiosyncratic visual transition: a sequence of photographic stills presented against the thoughtful, expressive voice of an off-screen narrator (Robert Darmel) as he recounts the tragic tale of a little girl taunted by her classmates who accidentally learns one day that her mother is in fact not her biological mother. The traumatic revelation would inevitably mark the young heroine's life as she confronts her biological mother in an attempt find to the reason for her rejection only to discover even more heartbreaking evasion and ambiguity in her parental identity. Unable to find closure, Monique (Silke Humel) runs away to Bordeaux in order to escape her past and falls into a reckless, sordid, and emotionally vacuous existence as a prostitution and later, as a kept woman to a wealthy older man. Driven by a pathological attraction towards ephemeral and transitory affection, Monique would stumble through a series of meaningless affairs until an encounter with a television repairman named Henri (Eva Simonet) from her hometown seemingly offers her a glimpse for the possibility of a respectable, normal life away from the streets.
Recalling the photographic fictional essays of Chris Marker (most notably, La Jetée) infused with the tongue-in-cheek, sexual role-reversal chamber melodramas of R. W. Fassbinder (most notably, the staged, hermetic insularity of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and In the Year of 13 Moons), Dogs' Dialogue is a wryly overwrought and vertiginously intricate, yet intelligently constructed austere comedy on identity, longing, and inextricable destiny. Reducing character interaction and narrative progression into a series of highly formalized essential images supplemented through explicative third-person narration - a playfully synthetic and intentionally self-conscious distillation of the role of the actor that the filmmaker would subsequently re-examine in his integration of tableaux vivants in The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting and Genealogies of a Crime - Raoul Ruiz presents an insightful (and incisive) exposition on the deconstruction of performance in the narrative and thematic development of a film. Ruiz juxtaposes recurring, interstitial active footage of leashed and caged barking dogs and aesthetically (and oppressively) commodified urban landscape of sidewalk barriers, multi-directional road signage, and architecturally identical (and visually interchangeable) high-density residential complexes against the film's drolly convoluted and infinitely recursive plot (from a script co-written by Nicole Muchnik and Raoul Ruiz) in order to create an intrinsic sense of claustrophobia and inescapability that reflects the characters' own circumstantial entrapment, anonymity, and existential limbo. It is this pervasive sentimental inertia and illusory search for transcendence that is invariably revealed in the static, lingering snapshots of the dissociated, archetypal characters: a subtly reinforcing image of transitory validation captured within the ephemeral frames of an alienated and impersonal conventional motion picture.
L'Hypothèse du tableau vole, 1978
[The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting]
An off-camera narrator is invited at the request of an unnamed art collector (Jean Rougeul) to study a series of seemingly innocuous paintings for which impeccably constructed tableaux vivants (a theatrical performance art that literally translates as 'living pictures' consisting of formally staged re-enacted images using live, statuesque actors) by an unremarkable nineteenth century artist named Frederic Tonnerre had once caused the artist to run afoul with French authorities. As the narrator critically surveys the six stylistically and thematically dissimilar paintings in search of potentially controversial characteristics that may have led to the exhibition's notorious reception and premature closure (and to Tonnerre's subsequent prosecution), the collector repeatedly interrupts the narrator's train of thought by tersely, yet adamantly proposing that there are, in fact, seven paintings involved in the ill-fated exhibition. The collector then presents his elaborate case for the existence of the unseen, 'stolen' painting using Tonnerre's similar media of artwork and tableaux vivants, as well as a salacious period novel to prove his own hypothesis, and examining several subtle, cursory details illustrated in the six extant paintings. Mapping an allusive (and invariably complex) trajectory through the unusual artistic embellishments within each painting, the collector contends that the curious details, in fact, provide visually associative cues that link the artworks together and point towards a sinister convergence - the depiction of various stages of a clandestine ceremony - a fragmentary window to a medieval ceremonial puzzle that has been deliberately left incomplete and indecipherable with the absence of serially critical missing link: the undefined (and indefinable) fourth painting.
Inspired by the idiosyncratic personality of author, theorist, and artist Pierre Klossowski whose densely cerebral erotic fiction was influenced by such notorious literary figures as the Marquis de Sade and the excommunicated surrealist Georges Bataille, as well as Klossowski's final novel La Baphomet, The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting is an indelibly haunting, endlessly fascinating, and maddeningly abstruse composition on Pirandellian ambiguity and the inherent subjectivity of perspective. Raoul Ruiz's ingenious use of baroque, compositional tableaux vivants that intrinsically meld static art and corporeal physicality creates a blurred delineation between reality and fiction that, in turn, conflates the multi-layered existential relativity between subject and viewer, operating as both an aesthetic evaluation of the paintings and as a psychological portrait of the eccentric logic behind the conspiracy-obsessed collector. (Note a similar narrative permutation in Ruiz's surreal whimsical fable, Love Torn in Dream.) Ruiz further fuses art and reality by visually creating an equally ominous atmosphere from the perspective of the collector (his perception of the existence of the covert medieval fraternity of the Order of the Knights Templar that was denounced during the Inquisition for charges of occultism and demonology) and the audience (the cognitive aberration implicit in the collector's knowledgeable and articulate, but monomaniacal hypothesis) that is also manifested through the exquisitely formalized chiaroscuro lighting of both the collector's residence and the tableaux vivants. Ostensibly presented through the conventional narrative framework of a complexly interwoven mystery, the film evolves into a sublime and intricate exposition on the reflexivity between art and life, the indefinable essence of artistic creativity, and the inexactness of personal interpretation.
Trois vies et une seule mort, 1996
[Three Lives and Only One Death]
A cleverly composed, prefiguring episode in Three Lives and Only One Death shows Mateo Strano (Marcello Mastroianni) in simultaneous, tripartite images (in a similar vein as Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad and Lina Wertmüller's Love and Anarchy) through mirrors and split-screening as he continues to awkwardly fidget with his necktie even after a secondary point-of-view shot indicates that he has already placed his hands on the dinner table while waiting for his wife, Maria (Marisa Paredes) to return to the room. It is a logically irreconcilable moment that punctuates Mateo's already bizarre story that he recounts to the reluctant André (Féodor Atkine), a polite stranger whom he intentionally engages in conversation at a local bistro: the abstracted old man's explanation for his inadvertent abandonment of his wife years earlier after impulsively renting a larger apartment on a nearby street one day, only to discover that tiny, demanding fairies inhabited the strangely morphing apartment - unanticipated roommates that would subsequently consume his time and attention (not to mention, household goods) over the next twenty years by modulating his own experienced reality. However, the fantastic - if not mad - tale would prove to be only the first in a series of strange phenomena articulated by an unnamed radio personality (Pierre Bellemare) who further narrates equally inscrutable events of a mild mannered professor of negative anthropology, George Vickers' (M. Mastroianni) withdrawal from society and his relationship with a compassionate prostitute named Tania (Anna Galiena), the unexpected change in fortune of a struggling, overly affectionate young couple, Martin (Melvil Poupaud) and Cecile (Chiara Mastroianni) who mysteriously inherit a chateau with an instinctually bell-trained butler (M. Mastroianni), and a wealthy industrialist, Luc Allamand (M. Mastroianni) whose seemingly ideal life with his beautiful young wife Helene (Arielle Dombasle) turns into upheaval after a self-actualized, imagined crisis.
Three Lives and Only One Death captures the whimsicality and droll, tongue-in-cheek humor that pervades Raoul Ruiz's densely structured, organically fluid, and elaborately conceived, baroque cinematic puzzle-fables. Ruiz sustains the film's playful illusionism and deliriously absurdist tone through sublime trompe l'oeil (literally, to deceive the eye) compositional effects: deceptive mirroring angles and reflection shots; seemingly static camera perspectives that capture shifting distances and tracking between objects (the walls of Mateo's apartment, and Tania's increasing proximity towards her husband (Jacques Pieiller) upon inspecting photographs that illustrates her growing interest in reverting to her sordid, former life); inanimate objects that appear to move and transform (note the wallpaper that comes to life at the sound of Maria's voice - who is ironically wearing a similarly bold print blouse while singing - that serves as an oblique reference to the colorful, over-coordinated mise-en-scene and costuming of Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). Presenting a logically tortuous and (appropriately) fractured narrative from the point-of-view of a psychologically imbalanced, yet prominent, successful, and charismatic protagonist, the film becomes an existential, modern allegory on identity, role-playing, and social multiplicity.
Généalogies d'un crime, 1997
[Genealogies of a Crime]
A voiceover narration recounts an ominous, ancient oriental tale of a young man who was destined by the stars to kill a woman from the family of Liu Bao and who, in the aftermath of the commission, was sheltered from communal justice by a mysterious, accommodating woman. However, as the bizarre story unfolds, his new benefactor (and lover) is revealed to be the ghost of his victim who had reassumed a physical form in order to be able to exact retribution on her cold-blooded murderer. It is a strange scenario that is seemingly replayed with eerie semblance to an event one stormy night at an unidentified chateau in present-day France as a young man named René (Melvil Poupaud) scurries away from the vicinity of a woman's lifeless body in an upstairs lounge, turns out the household lights, and attempts to dispose of a bloody knife in a nearby vacant lot. Days later, his legal defense is referred to a perennially unsuccessful attorney named Solange (Catherine Deneuve) - a woman reputed to have a sentimental weakness for advocating hopeless cases - who receives the notorious assignment from her supervisor Mathieu (Jean-Yves Gautier) on the same day that she discovers that her own son had perished in a motorcycle accident. Perhaps motivated by René's peripheral resemblance to her late son, or having struck a sympathetic cord in the overwhelming evidence alluding to his guilt - including a purported eyewitness account by a respected psychotherapist from the elusive Franco-Belgian Psychoanalytical Society named Georges Didier (Michel Piccoli) - the adrift and emotionally distant Solange agrees to defend the evasive and casually indifferent young man, a fateful decision that would inevitably draw her into a strange, interconnected web of secret societies, judicial cover-up, and justified unaccountability.
Raoul Ruiz creates a deliriously irreverent, exquisitely intricate, and modern-day comic fable on predestiny, human will, and folly of manipulative (and exploitive) psychological study in Genealogies of a Crime. Using immediately identifiable signature shots of elegantly sinuous tracking, baroque stylization, shifting perspective (through variation in focal length), and odd angle framing (particularly ceiling shots that suggest a machinistic, overarching point-of-view), Ruiz creates an indelibly tactile and immersive surreality that retains the serious-minded intellectuality and (often excessive) analytical deconstruction of modern psychology even as the filmmaker's agile camerawork provides a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek whimsy to the characters' humorless pedantism and paranoia: familiar Freudian elements (most notably, in the recurring references to eggs, transpositions of words, and in the interior monologue, free association of lipstick), elaborate role-playing (through counsel interviews, psychoanalysis, and staging of tableaux vivants), and formulation of conspiracy theories (through covert, ethically questionable tactics employed by the competing psychoanalytical societies represented by Didier and Christian (Andrzej Seweryn) in the name of scientific research). In the end, it is Ruiz's sophisticated, intelligent, and infectiously playful anti-intellectualism that transforms the seemingly rote psychological drama on instinctuality and compulsion into a sublime and effervescent exposition on the interconnection between art and life, the foibles of rationalized, amoral behavior, and the innate recursiveness of human history.
Ce jour-là, 2003
Auspiciously set in the nebulous and indeterminate milieu of "Switzerland, in the near future", Raoul Ruiz's eccentric, surreal fable opens to the shot of an abstracted and dotty young woman named Livia (Elsa Zylberstein) sitting on a park bench overlooking a fog obscured dirt road that is curiously located near the entrance of the San Michelle mental health institution. While jotting down a series of random, fleeting thoughts into her journal, she meets a cyclist who is abruptly thrown from his bicycle and, convinced that he is an angel (since, as her idiosyncratic theory goes, all angels on earth have fallen), proceeds to explain that tomorrow is destined to be the best day of her life, or rather - as she corrects herself - the most important day, which she comes to realize is not the same thing. Soon after the encounter, Livia is whisked away by her faithful and devoted servant Treffle (Jean-François Balmer) and brought home to the family's country estate where a crowd of snide and unscrupulously calculating relatives amass near the front steps awaiting her father, Harald's (Michel Piccoli) return home to celebrate his birthday. The morning of Livia's fateful day, December 28, arrives with the ominous news that a psychopathic killer, Pointpoirot (Bernard Giraudeau), has escaped from San Michelle (aided in part by a nefarious, enigmatic character named Warff (Féodor Atkine) who has a dubious task in mind for him). Detouring briefly from his assignment by visiting a pharmacy in order to pick up a digital blood glucose test monitor, the seemingly fastidious Pointpoirot arrives at the secluded estate, followed in dawdling, lukewarm pursuit by a pair of under-motivated police officers, Raufer (Jean-Luc Bideau) and Ritter (Christian Vadim), who decide to bide their time at a nearby café instead (whose owner, Morelli (Jacques Denis), acquiesces to Harald's fickle whim to ban a ubiquitous bottled seasoning called Salsox from the restaurant). Left to her own devises after Harald schemes with her brother to send the protective Treffle away for the day, the naïve Livia observes Pointpoirot calmly shaving through his reflection on a glass paneled door and soon invites the complete stranger inside the home, unwittingly setting off a grimly bizarre chain of events in Harald's opulent but forbiddingly desolate chateau.
Unfolding with the atmospheric and drolly sinister tone of a seemingly conventional murder mystery, Ce jour-là is a mischievously imaginative, deliriously hypnotic, and whimsical exposition on compulsion, personal will, greed, and destiny. Shot primarily from the idiosyncratic perspective of Livia and Pointpoirot - protagonists whose outward geniality and personal eccentricities also reveal a tenuous grasp of reality - Ruiz nevertheless retains the film's overarching structure of off-balanced surreality within an absurdist narrative structure through isolating (almost hermetic), but inconstant and vacillating points-of-view and elegant camerawork: the resplendently fluid, levitating tracking shot as the camera shifts focus from Livia to the San Michelle patients' bicycle ride; Pointpoirot's literally warped and hallucinatory vision as he suffers from an episode of hypoglycemia; exaggerated and deceptively shifting camera depth within the Harald estate (particularly hallways) that obscures referential position and reinforces visual (and individual) subjectivity. Deceptively framing the conundrumic moral fairytale within the familiar and accessible structure of a noir whodunit, Ruiz boldly illustrates his indelibly sophisticated and iconoclastic cinema of malleable logic, puckish wordplay, wry humor, and elaborate conspiracy.