Chilean-born, French-based Raoul Ruiz (1941-2011) had a major international career (100+ titles), but almost no Stateside presence off the fest circuit. His final work, NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET/’12, released posthumously, was a metaphysical bore, but received de rigeur critical nods and a token release. A better entry pic might be this late magnum opus which has more convincing champions. Trimmed for DVD release, it’s still a haul; two parts of a couple of hours apiece, structured like spokes around the wheel of young João, a charity case in the post-Napoleonic Era. Each time we meet a new ‘spoke,’ we find a secret relative and yet another complicated backstory that ties in to everything else we’ve seen. After a while they all seem to outstay their welcome with even the priest in charge of the boy turning up with three or four past (secular) identities. Ruiz treats all these scandals in a Po-faced fashion, letting us take the romantic excesses of love, sex, sin, guilt & honor as seriously or satirically as we wish. But, especially in the Part One, the execution is inert, with flat acting, staging, lighting & pacing, plus ceaseless lateral tracking back & forth that’s reminiscent of those painfully slow-crawling zooms in Roberto Rossellini’s dry-as-toast late-career ‘teaching’ pics. Things improve for Part Two, though a scorecard for the characters might help, Ruiz isn’t much for personalizing close-ups. But he does start conjoining camera moves to landscape, action & character, and a couple of the performers boldly connect with their parts. In spite of instructions? Hard to know what Ruiz wants, his rep for playful attack & subterfuge must come from his earlier pics. (He's often compared to Jean-Luc Godard.) But wouldn’t we all be better off reading a couple of Borges stories? (Done quicker, too.) Well, 98 film titles to go. We await revelation.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: It’s tough to beat Visconti on this sort of thing, though the tone is involved, not askance. Try SENSO/’54 which touches similar bases of romantic folly, pride, honor & national loyalties in 1860s Italy.