[Review] Mysteries of Lisbon (Mistérios de Lisboa, 2010)
A film by Raúl Ruiz
When a huge director such as the Chilean (of origin, he is naturalized French) Raúl Ruiz, considered as one of the greatest in the world, decides to tackle a river novel by the Portuguese writer Camilo Castelo Branco, considered a sort of Lusitanian equivalent to Victor Hugo or Honoré de Balzac, this necessarily gives an extraordinary work.
The writer had already been adopted in the past, with Amour de Perdition and the Day of Despair by Manoel de Oliveira, but never in such a flamboyant way. For his 37th feature film, the director of Âmes Fortes and Klimt gives birth to a titanic work.
At the start, there is a work for television, almost 6 hours, 6 episodes. For the cinema, the editing is reviewed but is close to the frightening duration of 4:30, suicide vis-à-vis the exhibitors. But how could it be otherwise? These 4:26 very exactly seem to slip away in a few minutes, like a dream, a flamboyant poem filmed by a genius of staging.
Make no mistake, Mysteries of Lisbon is a fresco like you no longer see in the cinema, but it goes even further. It’s a fresco like you’ve probably never seen before, which departs from the Hollywood model of the great era by bringing it a style as classic as it is deeply modern.
A masterpiece of cinema masterpiece that suffers from very rare weaknesses, easily forgettable as the whole has everything from the colossal and ultimate work of an immense artist.
Summarizing these Lisbon Mysteries is impossible. So many themes, so many stories, so many characters. We are there in the extremes of complex work, an abundance such that it requires a total abandonment of the spectator over the entire duration, more than substantial. It is also impossible to precisely categorize Raúl Ruiz’s new film.
Historical fresco, drama, family tragedy, bitter comedy, so many genres are approached in a mixture as stable as an alchemist’s creation. Mandatorily split into two parts, with an intermission that highlights the timeless status of the film a little more, Lisbon Mysteries suffers from a balance problem, the second being clearly the weakest in particular in its French part.
Nothing insurmountable, however, but the lack of naturalness, including in the most theatrical style possible of the acting of French actors, and the weakness of the French language in speaking, burst out in the light of day when faced with Portuguese much more pleasant to the ear. It’s all down to the last detail, but that’s how you miss perfection.
The whole story, or rather the stories, revolves around two characters. Pedro Da Silva, designated central protagonist who will be followed from his childhood to adulthood, and above all, more troubling, Father Dinis. This character, sometimes the narrator, sometimes actor of the action, seems to cross the modes and the times, like a supernatural being having lived different lives.
Around them, we witness a demonstration of storytelling with drawers, luminous tragedies, blazing dramas, crossed destinies and betrayals in madness, almost all the narrative tricks are found on the screen. And it’s a joy, a case study that allows us to pass on a story of a density bordering on the unreasonable and of a completely crazy duration like a letter in the post.
We are never bored, we are as caught up in all these mysteries which are revealed to reveal others, so much so that the intermission in the middle of the film almost brings us out of reverie.
A film in costumes that manages to fascinate in this way, we can only applaud the achievement, a true without equivalent or almost.
One would expect that a story of this magnitude would suffer from a soft and lazy picture. No, and this is a big surprise. The Lisbon Mysteries is as ambitious in narrative as it is visual! Indeed Raoul Ruiz connects the stylistic prowess with great shots of majestic traveling shots.
He mixes filters to stick as closely as possible to the tone of his dramatic pranks, dares surprising overprints of modernism and happily alternates between theater and cinema executives. On several occasions he plays with the position of his characters inside the frame, creating conversations that have a charm so different from that of the traditional backlash.
In short, we are witnessing everything except a demonstration of academism, but a riot of perfectly mastered technique that elevates the work to heights that we did not even expect. And if there are indeed a few actors who do a little too much in emotion and playfulness, it must be admitted that on the whole the distribution works miracles and contributes to the quality of the whole, exceptional.
A work of cinema that goes beyond the screen, Mysteries of Lisbon is part of this race of films that we only see on very rare occasions. A river and monumental work which illustrates the death of the aristocracy through a gallery of crossed destinies and dramas as anecdotal as fundamental.
Slices of life and death, a multitude of happy or destructive love stories. Raoul Ruiz signs a work that exceeds conventions at all levels, a masterpiece and one of the most beautiful films of the year. Never mind the 4:30 if it is to have the chance to see such a jewel of cinema.