Raúl Ruiz’s magisterial and monumental 4 ½ hour symphony – the prolific Chilean filmmaker’s penultimate feature film, initially made as a 6-hour miniseries – is a work of seductive beauty, stunning bravado and staggering brilliance. Memory, parental abandonment, infidelity, unrequited love, passionate but destructive relationships, aristocratic entitlements, and faith were the key themes in this luxuriously mounted period piece akin to a Dickensian saga or a Balzacian “human comedy”, while its narrative intricacies – achieved through elaborate, interconnected flashbacks – were quite breathtaking. Yet, for all its irresistible storytelling, Ruiz’s artistic and formalist vision, be it structurally and tonally or in its shifting POVs and sensorial compositions, were also discernible, making this a work of grand artistry. The episodic, labyrinthine plot was strung together by the intertwined lives of three men – João (João Arrais / Afonso Pimentel), the illegitimate son of an obsessed aristocrat’s wife (Maria João Bastos), who later, as a young poet haunted by the memories of his mother, falls hopelessly in love with the ravishing older lady Elisa (Clotilde Hesme); Father Dinis (Adriano Luz), an enigmatic but compassionate priest who was an illegitimate child to a doomed affair, fell in love as a young man with Elisa’s enchanting mother (Léa Seydoux), and later became a caretaker for João’s life and fate; and Alberto de Magalhães (Ricardo Pereira), a roguish, enigmatic nouveau riche man with a disreputable past whose life, too, has been inextricably linked to Pedro and Dinas, and to Elisa too. The magnificent cinematography – a rapturous synthesis of delicate hues, compositions and framing of impressionistic paintings, brought to motion with glorious tracking shots and signature deep focus shots –, and hauntingly melodic soundtrack, made this masterwork a mesmeric audiovisual spectacle.
p.s. My 1400th movie review at Cinemascope.
Director: Raul Ruiz
Genre: Drama/Period Drama/Romantic Drama/Religious Drama/Family Drama/Epic