Raul Ruiz is a unique hybrid in the history of cinema: a whale whose top occasionally crests the surface of the movie ocean; a fox in the financial jungle, surviving by wit and reflex; a spider in the crevices; a demon of energy whose every act overflows its occasion; a wrecking ball for narrative arcs and a seedsmith of story gardens. Propitious moments are rare and easily bungled, so Ruiz doesn’t wait for them. The path to perfection is booby-trapped with static hells, so he chooses instead a zigzag itinerary open to deviation by any opportunity that knocks, whistles, or winks. And human will, he tells us in his wonderful book Poetics of Cinema, is “something dark and oceanic” and never a univocal drive, despite the lies of Hollywood and its “central-conflict theory.” So his own career stands as will’s mirror, bearing as a motto “Discovery through dispersal.”
As current estimates of the Ruiz oeuvre top a hundred, it must be said that no one can quite keep track of him—he may not even be able to keep track of himself. But Lincoln Center’s “Film Comment Selects” series offers an opportunity to follow a little of his recent progress by showcasing three films from 2003–05 (one, Days in the Country, was unavailable for preview). Ce Jour-Là is a median example of his lacquered later work, taking a domestic-mystery premise more naturally the province of Chabrol and using it as the occasion for some tidy Swiss jokes (even the film frame gets a good wipe at one point); another outing for his favorite figure (a murderous Myshkin); further demonstration of the futility of central conflict, via two detectives who successfully adopt a “do nothing” approach to investigation; and a scrambled mise-en-scéne readily distracted from any ostensible point. The Lost Domain is something other, and far lovelier. This Chilean elegy revolves round the relations of Max (played by Grégoire Colin as a young man and codger and by Colin’s father, Christian, in middle age) with an older aviator (François Cluzet), who may or may not be the inspiration for the classic French novel Le Grand Meaulnes. In this memory companion to Ruiz’s Time Regained, the temporal shifts are built around the intriguing idea that sometimes the madeleine bites back—if a gesture or sound can summon involuntary recollection, it may also be that shards of the future are embedded in the past.