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A gigantic combusiton of forms

Anna Dzenis

Anna Dzenis is a lecturer in the Department of Cinema Studies, La Trobe University, Melbourne.

Helen Bandis, Adrian Martin, Grant McDonald eds, Raúl Ruiz: Images of Passage, Rouge Press in conjunction with the International Film Festival Rotterdam, 2004 ISBN 0 97518 690 6

There is a challenge to film criticism in Ruiz’s work—especially to mise en scène criticism, which would have to transform itself utterly in order to cope with what is going on here, picking up the road it very rarely took when modernist filmmakers began radically reshaping mise en scène in the 60s.
Adrian Martin

The films of Raúl Ruiz are complex, compelling, lyrical, enigmatic, ambiguous and poetic. They have both delighted and bewildered serious film-goers, yet English language essays on Ruiz’s work have been infrequent. Raúl Ruiz: Images of Passage attempts to redress this by bringing together a number of quite different writings that invite us to think in new ways about Ruiz’s cinema. The book also engages, through its selection of material, with questions about the practice of film criticism, in particular the problem of thinking and writing about films that challenge our ideas about what cinema can be.

Raúl Ruiz is the first book published by Rouge Press, the publishing arm of the online journal Rouge ( It was produced in conjunction with the 2004 Rotterdam Film Festival to coincide with the festival’s featured program “Raúl Ruiz: An Eternal Wanderer.” In their second issue Rouge also produced an online annotated filmography of Ruiz’s oeuvre of over 80 films. Along with the book, the annotated filmography is part of an extensive and ongoing database.

While the filmography presents a chronology of Ruiz’s prolific career, the book follows a less linear structure. Curiously, there is no introduction or editorial that explains the book’s organisation or the editors’ intentions. However, the book does contain a genuinely varied range of material, from analytical essays, to interviews and reminiscences, as well as 3 pieces by Ruiz himself. It also makes important writings on Ruiz available in English for the first time. There is a comprehensive filmography of Ruiz’s short films, features, incomplete works and television productions from 1960 to 2004 and a select bibliography of publications and pertinent web resources.

At the centre of the book are 2 excellent analytical essays. Christine Buci-Glucksmann’s “The Baroque Eye of the Camera (Part 1)” is an excerpt from a book-length study of Ruiz that explores connections between the history of the baroque, the thought of Gilles Deleuze and the images of Ruiz. Her project is ambitious and creative and her writing mirrors the complexity of Ruiz’s work: this gigantic combustion of forms, the cinema can only be a baroque palimpsest, a theatre of shadows and memory. For if a baroque implies a ‘cinema of the seer and no longer of the agent’, to use a distinction made by Gilles Deleuze, Ruiz’s cinema would be a sort of second degree baroque—a baroque of the baroque.

The second central essay, “Displacements” by Adrian Martin, is written specifically for this book and inspiringly interrogates the way images function in Ruiz’s cinema. Disputing the claim that Ruiz is a montage director, Martin proposes that the director works with a “holistic conception of mise-en-scène” and it is therefore more productive to engage with multiple films rather than single texts. The essay also makes some interesting connections between Ruiz’s dream-like films and Freud’s essay “The Interpretation of Dreams.” Both essays not only offer unique frames of interpretation for thinking about Ruiz, but are impressive works of film criticism in their own right.

Ruiz’s own reflections are delightfully eloquent and perfectly complement the other essays in the book. In a lengthy 1986 interview with Benoit Peeters, he discusses the motivations behind his work and makes some telling remarks about the dominant American model of storytelling and its paradigm of conflict:

I refused this technique. I criticised it for leaving out a character’s internal logic, and what I called the archipelago structures of reality—which create great, silent spaces and zones of concentrated energy...Above all, I criticised it for harming the valorisation of the image, and replacing it by the valorisation of what it pretends to make the film’s centre: characters.

In terms of Ruiz’s writings, there are fragments from a screenplay of a film entitled The Comedy of Shadows that is still in post-production and an Eisensteinian exegesis titled “The Six Functions of the Shot” in which Ruiz elaborates, practically and poetically, on the “centripetal” and the “centrifugal.” The book also contains intriguing mini-narratives that Ruiz writes and presents to his actors several weeks before shooting begins. He describes them as “time bombs” because they are meant to “replace any rational analysis of the characters.”

Tributes, reminiscences, memoirs and interviews provide additional insights from those who have met or worked with Ruiz. The poet Waldo Rojas paints a picture of the avant-garde culture that he and Ruiz were part of in Santiago, Chile during the 1960s. The artist Jean Miotte, who was the subject of Ruiz’s film Miotte by Ruiz describes Ruiz’s methodology:

He associates facts from his unique knowledge of the rarest subjects in a completely unusual and unexpected way. There is also the ingeniousness and the creative impulse evident in his choice of scenes to shoot...And also his arrangements of transparent objects: glass tables, vases, reflections in water after a stone is thrown into a pond—all of that gives a surprising effect of both the lived and the illusory. That is how he leads us into his dream.

Marie-Luce Bonfanti, who worked as an assistant and actor on Professor Taranne says: “he is someone who censors nothing. He allows everything—and that’s precisely the gift he hands to his actors.”

My favourite recollection comes from Bérènice Reynaud, who relays a story from a colleague at Cahiers du Cinéma. Ruiz had mistakenly arranged to meet 2 people for lunch at the same time. Instead of cancelling one of the meetings, he rescheduled so that he could run from one restaurant to the other through a back door, each time excusing himself by saying he had to make a phone call. He ended up having 2 lunches and 2 conversations at the same time rather than disappoint anyone. And so the doubling, the repetitions, the parallels and mirror-like reflections that create so much of the fabric of Ruiz’s cinema are also echoed in his daily life.

There is a small black and white image reproduced in the lower right corner of every double page spread in this book—the imprint of a frozen moment from Ruiz’s Shattered Image. As you read the book you are aware of this small and constantly shifting image and the visual context it gives to the writing. But if you flick through the pages, the images suddenly become animated and a scene from the film is replayed. Readers move from thoughts grounded in still images to watching a scene in motion pictures. This is just one more example of the way this thoughtfully composed book invites us to reflect on the many layers in the remarkable cinema of Raúl Ruiz.

Anna Dzenis is a lecturer in the Department of Cinema Studies, La Trobe University, Melbourne.

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg. 10

© Anna Dzenis; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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