Raul Ruiz, 1941-2011


One of the most innovative and prolific narrative filmmakers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Chilean-born, Paris-based director Raul Ruiz died today in Paris of a pulmonary infection.

Ruiz wrote and directed well over a hundred features and TV mini-series in Chile (from which he exiled himself after the 1973 coup that overthrew Salvador Allende), France, Portugal, the Netherlands, and the United States, including The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1979), Treasure Island (1985), Life is a Dream (1986), and a brilliant 1999 adaptation of Proust’s Time Regained.

Many were literary adaptations; most were characterized by Ruiz’s outrageously baroque, often bargain-basement, mise-en-scene and his droll, fantastically convoluted narratives. Ruiz’s latest film the sprawling Mysteries of Lisbon, based a classic Portuguese novel and regarded by many as a masterpiece, opened in New York this summer, widely hailed as one of the best movies of the year–if not the century.

Ruiz was a legend in Europe, the subject of entire issues of Cahiers du Cinema, the recipient of the Rotterdam Film Festival’s first lifetime achievement award, well before his Three Crowns of the Sailors was included in the 1984 New York Film Festival–and failed to make him a household name. More than a few Voice readers (and even some writers) complained about the praise that I lavished on this esoteric figure and several years later I made a tongue-in-cheek attempt to pigeonhole him: “Now that the Film Forum has opened two Raul Ruiz films in a single month, it may be that 1988 will be the year one no longer needs to explain just who the double-hey huh? is this dude with B-movie monicker–e.g. the Godard of the ’80s, Mister early-Borges-plus-middle-period Welles, a Barthesian Bunuel, the Edgar G. Ulmer of the European art film, a Third World H. Rider Haggard, the Garcia Marquez of French TV.”

The fact is Ruiz was Ruiz and Ruizian is a concept that has long since been part of film critical apparatus.