(director/writer: Raúl Ruiz; screenwriter: from an idea of Pierre Klossowski; cinematographer: Sacha Vierney; editor: Patrice Royer; music: Jorge Arriagada; cast: Jean Rougeul (The Collector); Runtime: 66; MPAA Rating: NR; Coralie Films International; 1978-France-in French with English subtitles)

“A unique occult whodunit.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Chilean-born exile, now living in France, Raúl Ruiz’s opaque experimental film The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting was made for French television originally as a documentary to profile philosopher, writer and pornographer Pierre Klossowski, but then evolved into this curious collaboration about the meaning of art. What results is a unique occult whodunit. Its critical acclaim gave the filmmaker an international following.

A bumbling unnamed art collector (Jean Rougeul) guides us and an unseen offscreen interviewer around the works of a fictional middling 19th century painter named Frederic Tonnerre, located in a mansion, in an attempt to solve the mystery of a missing seventh painting. The search involves the sloppily made live reenactment of the compositions of each tableaux vivants (using real actors). The collector and interviewer argue over the deeper meanings of the paintings, which also relates to the creative film experience. The interpretations of each picture seems to be a big stretch as it relates the mythological subjects with today’s society. The collector believes these paintings are keys to a larger secret, one related to an historical scandal. This theory presupposes the existence of a seventh painting, the crucial missing link in the chain. The collector believes this painting has been stolen, but the interviewer claims it never existed.

This intellectual thriller is a puzzler that remains ambiguous (which I don’t find as a virtue) and can only be understood through each hypothesis put forth, that is if you can make sense out of any of this at all. It asks a lot of the viewer, as it reminds us that what is unsaid can at times be more important than what is said. This resounds as a sly dig at the intransigent nature of personal interpretations of art. Obviously, not for all tastes, but if you enjoy a film that is a pure mind trip then this one should take you there … or, at least, it will try to take you there if you are not bored out of your mind by the journey.

REVIEWED ON 1/31/2004 GRADE: B-   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/