Raúl Ruiz is one of the great cinematic self-perpetuators, like Louis Feuillade and Jacques Rivette—a film like this gathers a motion and a rhythm that makes it feel like it could on and on, self-generating new stories and new characters ad infinitum. Based on the novel by Camilo Castelo Branco (whose writing has been the source for Oliveira’s similarly fatalistic romance, Doomed Love), Mysteries of Lisbon is, to paraphrase a line from one of its many characters used to describe a disastrous relationship he had, a game that turns into a bourgeois romantic drama, to which I would add, that turns into a game. It starts—as all stories must?—with an orphaned boy questioning his parentage and falling into a fever, and out of that starting point the film evolves less as a story than a cartography of characters crossing points in space and time. On paper it is indeed all melodrama: identities revealed, lives saved in the past coming back to haunt the saviors, secret connections, loves turns to hatreds. But as traced by Ruiz’ oscillating tracking shots, which arc back and forth across rooms, pleating our view onto itself, folding time and space and people, the 19th century soap opera is transformed into an oneric submergence into ill-wrought fate, stories-within-stories, the nesting of all things, and the mysterious system which, quivering with ironic mirth and melancholy, holds everyone in place. This elegantly languorous, epic film (four and a half hours long), carries with it a paradoxical sense of infinite expansion outward, with each new character, each new place a new story, a new irony, a new connection backwards and a suggestion thrown forwards, yet this expansion seems to exist within a closed system. If this closure is not the film itself, which must end, than it is some other, secret measure of control that binds the interlocking orbits of people and their passions in space and time and does not allow them to escape. Perhaps the Mysteries are both expanding and elastic? Certainly a model for the universe, if that’s the case. As for the bourgeois drama, everyone’s fable-like unsurprise at the strange motions, histories, and identities of those characters around them opens their simple emotions to a greater cosmic plane, as if they have an awareness they have to live both in the elastic, restricted world (of their society, of a normal dramatic film) and one that has mysterious, expanding mind of its own.
6.87GB | 4 h 26 min | 1024×524 | mkv