Adapted from a classic Portuguese novel by Camilo Castelo Branco, Raoul Ruiz’s film is something of an exercise in old-fashioned European story telling. Ruiz, who died last August after a career of well over 100 films, also filmed a Proust adaptation, Time Regained, starring Catherine Deneuve. Ruiz was Chilean born, but was based in Paris.
Mysteries of Lisbon was first shown as a 6-Hr television miniseries, and has made several festival stops. It screened in Boston last August) as a 4 Hr, 32 minute film in two parts). The DVD release of the film version was in January. Ruiz’s films have often been described as “painterly”, and that description certainly applies to this gorgeous film with its masterful use of light. There are scenes that pan 360-degrees that are like a still life motion picture. There are scenes where a conversation is taking place in another room, seen through an open door – with a servant sitting in the left of the frame, foreground. Three people enter a room from different directions, they freeze like a tableaux for several moments, and then proceed on their way. A constant reference point is a sort of theater tableau that has puppet like figures. This was given to Joao by his mother and introduces scenes throughout the film, an unusual and perfect device for a film with so many twists and turns.
The story itself concerns young Joao who is being raised as an orphan in a Catholic school. I say “raised” as a orphan, because it turns out that he is not an orphan at all. His mother is a Countess, and his father is…well, his father is part of the story. There are Counts and Dukes, Duchesses and Marquise, priests and gypsies and nuns. Some are several of these things, and the names they go by change appropriately. There are duels by sword and pistol. There are passionate and fatal loves. There are revenges and penances. It’s all a feast of nineteenth storytelling. A sumptuous film for the eyes that will also keep your head in the game.