1981-1990ArthouseDramaFranceRaoul Ruiz

Raoul Ruiz – Bérénice (1983)


‘A lush, baroque adaptation of Jean Racine’s 1670 tragedy about a Roman emperor who bends to popular will and declines to marry the Palestinian queen he loves.’
– IMDb

‘Abandoning his project of filming the collected works of Racine on Super 8, Ruiz produced this remarkable piece of ‘theatre on film’ in collaboration with the Avignon Festival. On screen, the absolutely remarkable actors read the text, nothing but the text, and almost all the text of Bérénice. The light modernisation does not turn it into a pretext for a familiar Ruizian rebus. He opts for, simultaneously, great unity and great richness: every scene invents a new effect, a new way to play the scene, but the aesthetic of shadow and light gives it overall unity. Ruiz chose Bérénice precisely because it is the only Racine tragedy that doesn’t end in slaughter. And yet the characters are presented as spectres, ‘dead souls’. This beyond-the-grave ambience relates to an ambiguity some have detected in Racine: the possibility that the characters are already dead. If one takes play and film together, everything occurs as if the drama has already played out, and we are witness to its post-mortem re-presentation. Bérénice is about an impossible meeting, impossible harmony: a tragedy of closing doors. Ruiz’s typical intellectualism is ghosted here by an unexpected lyricism; rarely has his work attained such heights of emotion.’
– Olivier Curchod




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