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Mysteries of Lisbon (2010)

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I thought we should probably have a thread on this film. Not the least of which because it's one of my must-see films (it should be making its way to my area later this year), but also because of director Ruiz's passing a few days ago. A TV miniseries edited into a film, MYSTERIES OF LISBON has been hailed as a number of prominent critics as a tremendous accomplishment in epic narrative (it runs at a staggering 4 1/2 hours), a kind of epic memory film with great digressions and a constant stream of narrative-altering revelations. It was really Tony Pipolo's review that sold me on the film, though, and ever since I've been dying to get hold of it.

However, I know practically nothing of Ruiz's previous work, or of his importance or lack thereof. Any comments from those better-acquainted with his seemingly great volume of work would be appreciated, if only so I can get some bearings before diving headfirst into his labyrinthine, enormous MYSTERIES OF LISBON.

Here's the trailer:

Edited by Ryan H.

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I saw this trailer on apple.com the other day, and it looked intriguing. Let me know if you get a chance to see it, as I doubt it will be making its way here soon.

The passing of Ruiz has shed some light on him and his great importance as a filmmaker (I'm reading some calling him the Latin American Welles). I'm interested in checking out some of his work, and if anyone has any suggestions I'm open to them. Our university library has access to his adaptation of Proust, TIME REGAINED, which seems to be one of his more famous films. I'm also interested in hearing that he directed a version of Kafka's story, "In the Penal Colony", called simply, THE PENAL COLONY. Others wrote about his work entitled POETICS OF CINEMA. Anyone read anything from it?

Also, the various tributes refer to him as one of the Latin American filmmakers who exhibits a great deal of the influence of Borges. That alone is enough for me to check out more.

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Well, whaddya know! On Facebook, Matt Zoller Seitz just linked to this write-up on Ruiz and his career. Right off the bat, it shows that I had something wrong: MYSTERIES OF LISBON isn't Ruiz's last film.

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Okay, just pulled a library book of my shelf and I'm reading an essay I had earlier skimmed (in trying to come up with a working definition of a "Borgesian cinema") that predominantly deals with Ruiz, "Borges and the New Latin American Cinema." The three films it deals with as being particularly Borgesian are HYPOTHESIS OF THE STOLEN PAINTING, THE THREE CROWNS OF THE SAILOR, and CITY OF PIRATES. I'm adding those to my "too watch" list.

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Anders, I have a screener. Send me an e-mail or PM right before TIFF and I'll try to remember to bring it to Toronto.

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Well, whaddya know! On Facebook, Matt Zoller Seitz just linked to this write-up on Ruiz and his career. Right off the bat, it shows that I had something wrong: MYSTERIES OF LISBON isn't Ruiz's last film.

That Martin piece is great just for the fact that he reveals that Ruiz and Deleuze once got into a fistfight over an intellectual disagreement (and that is why Ruiz doesn't feature more prominently in the CINEMA books).

Anders, I have a screener. Send me an e-mail or PM right before TIFF and I'll try to remember to bring it to Toronto.

Thanks. I'll try to remember as well.

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I have a very, very hard time imagining anything beating out MYSTERIES OF LISBON for the honor of being my favorite film of the year.

A few thoughts:

  • MYSTERIES OF LISBON features the best priest character that I've ever encountered in a film.
  • It's long--in some ways, it's like three or four films mashed together into a giant mega-film--but it's engaging enough that you don't feel the full weight of the four hours of running time. (I'm hoping to see the full six hour version at some point in the future.)
  • For the most part, LISBON is stylistically controlled--not unlike THE LEOPARD or BARRY LYNDON, depending on the moment--but Ruiz sprinkles in surreal touches that liven the proceedings. As a result, everything seems perched on the edge of a dream.
  • Reviews seem to either understand MYSTERIES OF LISBON as memory-identity narrative or as a cultural study (Sicinski: "Mysteries of Lisbon weaves a sociological tapestry, demonstrating how the interconnections between characters ultimately have less to do with chance and more to do with their common implication within a largely deterministic social and political structure, one that is all the more tenacious for its being on the wane"). The first angle has some merit, beautifully covered in the Film Comment review, but I am not satisfied that MYSTERIES OF LISBON is as preoccupied with social/political structures to the extent that many critics seem to be. The sea of tragedies in MYSTERIES OF LISBON is driven more by individual choice and passion than it is by socio-political forces. I'm more interested in what the narratives of MYSTERIES OF LISBON suggest about the ethics of desire, especially given the way Christianity explicitly informs the choices of these characters at key junctures.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Dang dang dang dang dang.

It played here already, and I didn't get to see it.

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Dang dang dang dang dang.

It played here already, and I didn't get to see it.

I fear many people may in the same boat, Jeffrey. MYSTERIES OF LISBON seems to have already made its visit to a great number of cities. It's a shame. In addition to being a splendid film, MYSTERIES OF LISBON offers A&F some marvelous conversation fodder. I'm chomping at the bit to discuss Father Dinis, who has jumped straight into my pantheon of favorite movie characters.

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As much as I love that movies of that duration can be made and distributed, I regret that my schedule rarely accommodates such a pleasure. I hope they rush this thing to video or a streaming service soon. It won't be the same thing as seeing it with a community on a huge screen, but at least I'll be able to see it and think (that is to say, write) about it. I still wish I'd seen Best of Youth and Carlos in theatres.

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As much as I love that movies of that duration can be made and distributed, I regret that my schedule rarely accommodates such a pleasure.

Going by the scant few people in the audience, I'm guessing you're not alone.

To ease the pain of the immense running time, there was a twenty minute intermission, and the theater offered to give out vouchers at intermission that would allow people to return later in the week to see just the second half of the film. But I was in for the long haul.

I hope they rush this thing to video or a streaming service soon. It won't be the same thing as seeing it with a community on a huge screen, but at least I'll be able to see it and think (that is to say, write) about it. I still wish I'd seen Best of Youth and Carlos in theatres.

I'm hoping for a Criterion release. MYSTERIES OF LISBON deserves one.

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I'm hoping for a Criterion release. MYSTERIES OF LISBON deserves one.

My wish will likely go unfulfilled. MYSTERIES OF LISBON already has a planned 3-disc Blu-Ray release set for December 20.

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Rosenbaum comments on his evolving appreciation for Ruiz and comments on MYSTERIES OF LISBON:

Perversely, it was
Point de fuite
(1984), one of his weakest and emptiest films, that signaled his uniqueness to me more than the much livelier and more inventive
City of Pirates
(1983) when I saw both films in Rotterdam in 1984, because the sheer pointlessness of the former seemed as potentially fruitful as the radical denials of technique in early Luc Moullet, the cross-references of Jean-Luc Godard, the temporal suspensions of Jacques Rivette, and the endlessly prolific output of Andy Warhol, all of which could be construed as provocative responses to the usual capitalistic complacencies about craft and consumption.

But Ruiz’s “capitulation” also entailed a positive development that enriched his aesthetics even if it undermined some of his previous indifference regarding success or failure. Much of this was a matter of becoming interested in camera movements, which bigger budgets made more viable.

[ . . . ]

This achieves a kind of apotheosis in the masterful camera movements of
Mysteries of Lisbon
(2010) — especially those in interiors, where they sometimes implicitly suggest the viewpoints of servants — becoming an integral part of Ruiz’s mise en scène that deepens as well as sharpens Ruiz’s inquisitive skepticism about narrative itself (and which class it can sometimes belong to). It’s even possible that the mastery he achieves in this late work – not only in terms of both storytelling and visual pleasure, but also in emotional power (a relatively rare thing to be found in an oeuvre dominated by irony) – suggests that Ruiz’s two greatest works may both turn out to be Portuguese miniseries: namely the 152-minute
Manoel on the Island of Wonders
(1984) and the six-hour
Mysteries of Lisbon
(2010), shortened to four and a half hours in the theatrical version; together they ironically might be regarded as the least and best known of his major works. (Regarding the former, I can happily report that, although this Lewis Carroll-like fantasy has never been available commercially on video or DVD, it survives, according to Ruiz himself, in its original Portuguese form – which is the way that I initially saw it, at the Rotterdam Film Festival, where it was awarded a prize – at the Portuguese Cinémathèque, although it was also once shown on Australian television dubbed into French, with English subtitles. And both versions of Mistérios de Lisboa are happily already available in a Portuguese DVD box set.)

All of which suggests an extraordinary evolution on Ruiz’s part. Even if he arguably started out as a kind of low-rent Edgar G. Ulmer, he also, no less arguably, wound up as a kind of gilt-edged (or guilt-edged) Otto Preminger.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Now streaming (386 minutes) on vudu.com for about five bucks.

Edited by Overstreet

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Now streaming (386 minutes) on vudu.com for about five bucks.

Pay it and buckle up.

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Overstreet wrote:

: Now streaming (386 minutes) on vudu.com for about five bucks.

Four bucks, if you don't mind watching it in SD rather than HD. (And since I don't have an HD TV...)

Does anyone know if Vudu works outside the U.S.? The wife and I "rented" a movie from Google/YouTube for the first time ever last night (said movie being Errol Morris's Tabloid), and I was glad to see that everything worked out fine (although I had a moment of panic there, when Google/YouTube said it couldn't accept the first credit card I tried; was it because the card had a Canadian address, I wondered? -- but then the second card worked fine). Anyway, I could get used to this video-on-demand thing.

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I've watched twice as many movies on Netflix Instant this year than I have watched in theaters. The revolution is televised.

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FYI . . . I'm watching the SD version on Vudu and enjoying the heck out of it. I thought the 6-1/2-hour run time seemed odd, though. This morning I discovered that Vudu actually has the 4-1/2-hour theatrical cut, but they've encoded part 1twice.

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Good to know. Thanks, Darren.

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Just to be clear: they only have the theatrical cut, or they have both? Sorry--the "386 minutes" is throwing me off a bit...

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Looks like they only have the theatrical cut. There's an extra two hours (about 110 minutes) built into that run time because the first section has been encoded twice.

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Looks like they only have the theatrical cut. There's an extra two hours (about 110 minutes) built into that run time because the first section has been encoded twice.

Ah, thanks for the clarification.

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So, Mysteries of Lisbon was my last film of 2011 and it's my favorite film of the year as well. I've only seen a handful of Ruiz's dozens and dozens of films but am now fighting the urge to track down every one I can find. Lisbon is the most impeccably directed film I've seen in a long time. Just . . . wow.

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Well, I know what I'm doing tomorrow then.

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