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Mistérios de Lisboa is shown in the United States with the title Mysteries of Lisbon (2010). The film is directed by the extraordinary Chilean director, Raoul Ruiz. Ruiz, who died in 2011, had directed 115 films. (Not a typo--one hundred and fifteen.)
The film is based on a novel by the Portuguese author Camilo Castelo Branco. (Unfortunately, the novel isn't available in English translation.) It's also frustrating that the DVD available in the U.S. is a shortened version of the original miniseries. (266 minutes vs. 360 minutes. What was left out of the shorter version?)
The film is hard to describe because there are stories within stories within stories. The basic plot--more or less--revolves around a boy attending a Catholic school in early 19th Century Portugal. The boy doesn't know the identity of his mother and father. He doesn't even know his last name.
We eventually meet his mother, her husband, and--in flashback--his father. We also meet elegant women in sumptuous gowns, men for whom dueling is a way of life, and endless numbers of servants who are always watching and listening.
Some mysteries are never resolved. For example, there's a young woman who is the mistress of one of the nobles. When he dies, she refuses to accept any of his inheritance. She turns up again as the wife of an extremely wealthy, cruel man. Then she disappears from the plot. (Was her story edited out, or did she just disappear?)
Ultimately, I think the key to the plot is the priest Padre Dinis, played extremely well by Adriano Luz. He--like almost all of the the characters--turns out to have a surprising past.
Other IMDb reviewers have commented on the costumes, which are incredibly attractive. Two main characters who appear in those costumes are Maria João Bastos as a Portuguese noblewoman and Clotilde Hesme as a French noblewoman. Both of them are extremely beautiful in a European, non-Hollywood way. They appear to have been born to wear those costumes.
At the very end of the movie the young man, now grown, encounters some beggars. One of them tells him, "With the nobility, it's all about their honor. We poor people know these things happen, and we take them as part of life." When I thought about it, those sentences encompasses Mysteries of Lisbon. Nobles fight duels and spend endless effort and resources to protect the honor of their family. One man goes so far as to order the killing of his grandchild, because the child is born out of wedlock. Huge events are taking place around them--the Napoleonic wars, the Portuguese civil war--but what really matters is their rigid code of honor.
We saw this movie on DVD, and it worked well enough. However, almost every frame of the film would be a beautiful still. Many scenes look like lush paintings--Baroque, rather than 19th Century. That's why I believe the film would work better on the large screen. However, if no screening is available, buy the DVD. It's not a movie you want to miss!
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