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For obvious reasons I was expecting something that toyed with elements of the swashbuckler, perhaps in a surreal manner. Not a thing. No pirates here, certainly not a city of them.
All the other reviews available here denote the visual exuberance; indeed, Ruiz graces us with a feast, a magical lantern of imposing colors and impossible angles. We may find Welles or Robbe-Grillet somewhere in this, others thought of Bunuel.
What greatly appeals to me in all this is the raw, tangible feel where the traces of the creative endeavor are burrowed in the work itself, suggesting both the spontaneous joy of conceiving them out of thin air and the carpenter's puzzling over how to construct them from bare essentials. So that a bouncing ball denoting in a seance the presence of spirits, suggests the filmmaker's hand that holds it by the string. Far-reaching vision, conceived by intimate means.
So this seems to be the cinematic mode that Ruiz favored in the 80's; dreamy, oblique narratives that transport to the folds of the imaginative mind. Except the mist here is thicker than previously, as everything (or nearly everything) takes place in the mind.
What events set this thing in motion on the level of reality reach us down here in the mind as fantastical echoes. We experience all of this vaguely, internally, as the faint repercussions of some violence bubbling at the far surface.
Still, the trained eye will likely come out of this with some idea or sense of what transpired.
We have a young adopted woman, who is on the receiving end of her stepfather's sexual advances (he "lulls her to sleep" with money), who probably retreats into an imaginative flight that takes her to the "isle of the pirates". She discovers a kid who has in turn murdered his family, an inner kid also lost and fleeing, also in need of affection. She falls in love with a man who talks to her of love as the Holy Spirit, burning, hurting, and whom we later see has grown distant, offering to buy her a radio when all she wants is "all that he has".
The first hour of this is some of the most sublime stuff ever. Joyful, sorrowful, strangely ominous (there is a seance and talk of a dead boyfriend. constables show up on the doorstep to deliver portents of doom), characters sing, cameras dance. Ruiz juggles remarkably the various moods, dream to nightmare. The opening is like out of Godard, with aloof characters in a seaside villa alluding to forgotten meanings through vague soliloquys. Once they reach the isle of the pirates it looses steam though, which is a recurring thing with Ruiz. His films often feel to me longer than they should. While his filmmaking is immersive, with the ability to take us places, it is often dragged down by the heavy allegories.
Stick with it though, because the final image is one to cherish. It starts like this; two hooded figures of women sit before an open window looking out to sea, and one of them is pointing out somewhere, where a shadow is rising. It takes my breath away just to recall it.
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