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On Top of the Whale (1982)

Het dak van de Walvis (original title)
A parody of anthropology, linguistics, and cultural imperialism. The film follows an unlikely team of linguists into the wilds of an ersatz Patagonia to study the last speakers of a dying ... See full summary »



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Credited cast:
Jean Badin ...
Fernando Bordeu ...
Herbert Curiel ...
Amber De Grau ...
Luis Mora
Ernie Navarro


A parody of anthropology, linguistics, and cultural imperialism. The film follows an unlikely team of linguists into the wilds of an ersatz Patagonia to study the last speakers of a dying language. That language apparently consists of a single word, which therefore means everything. Written by International Film Circuit <ifcplanet@aol.com>

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Release Date:

20 June 1986 (USA)  »

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On Top of the Whale  »

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When Europe meet America or a brilliant linguistic Realismo Magico tale
13 June 2007 | by See all my reviews

This film is one of Ruiz's greatest. Once, I read, with his film Ruiz pay tribute to Jean Luc Godard's Le Mepris. So then, I asked Ruiz (Santiago, 2005)... You were influenced by this Godard's film... ? - which film ? - ... This film Le Mepris with Jack Palance and... your film features same kind of music (Georges Delerue's music is an actor in Le Mepris, and as far as I can feel Jorge Arriagada composed great music for Ruiz's film, but does not top Delerue's), (...) close atmosphere, and two languages... - more than two languages ! - (answered Ruiz). Yes, you are right (...), and then Ruiz goes : "Probably I took it from there". So, as far as art form and influence is concerned we are aware where inspiration is coming from. This being said, to fully understand visions, dreams, ideas we must try to relate to Ruiz background. Ruiz spent half his life in Chile, and the other half in France. Then he is American and European, extremely cultivated man, with socialist roots, being able to share a sophisticated humor. We may say this film is "Realismo Magico" at his best (allow me to describe it as 'dreaming in real time'...). Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize winner, developed the style in that great novel "Hundred years of Solitude", where he set the parameters to study America's fate and the Human Condition. All this; is, somewhere, in Ruiz mind. Therefore, in 1980-1982, nothing better than starting a film assuming hilariously that the Soviet Union expanded so much that finally it included Holland, nice joke, very Ruiz, but History proved he was wrong. The film stars here with comrades meeting in Holland. An anthropologist is introduced by his wife to this Chilean communist millionaire, a contradiction in terms, who invited them to his property in Patagonia where are living the two last Yachanes Indians, their ancestors decimated by colonialism and imperialism, the point where the film meet actual History. This is the reason why Ruiz was right, the film was shot in six different languages : English, French, German, Dutch, and the interesting Indian language. In Patagonia Ruiz counterpoints European culture with American culture, in particular with Indian culture, this is the climax of the film where contradictions, dreams, visions, frustrations, prejudices, barbarism, individualism, imperialism are exposed and denounced. The anthropologist left in confusion just to return and realized his wife, Eva (!) is in a relationship with Narcisso, the millionaire; while Adam and Eden (!), wasting not even a minute, have read Hegel; learned French and German; listened Mozart and Beethoven, and being able to develop theories about them all (!) becoming even opinionated... "Hegel was a nice guy", "I do not like Mozart, he was a reactionary, I like Beethoven", this scene is just truly amazing and brilliant, the sarcasms and message is : Europe is everything, we are nothing. Now, everything you have in mind, regardless of roots, etc. ; what it counts, is it coming from Europe. Ruiz takes distance, he smiles (he is ironic), the film is over, the idea is plain, self-evident... "No matter what, Chile will always be juice", said Ruiz in an interview. Culturally and linguistically, what is valid for Chile is valid for America as a whole, and Europe still is, somehow, far away, distant, rather cold, nihilist, attractive and one day, who knows, even Socialism will prevail over there... 9/10

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