(director/writer: Raoul Ruiz; cinematographer: Acácio de Almeida; editor: Valeria Sarmiento; music: Jorge Arriagada; cast: Melvil Poupaud (Paul / Fils de Mariani / Loup / Le père jeune), Elsa Zylberstein (Lucrezia / Jessica / la Sultane), Lambert Wilson (Sebatol / un Pirate), Christian Vadim (David / un Pirate), Diogo Dória (Mariani / le père de Paul), José Meireles (Le voleur / un pirate), Rogério Samora (Baniel / Un Pirate ), Francisco Arizia (Socrates); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paulo Branco; Clap Films-in PAL; 2000-France-in French with English subtitles)
It veers from being silly to being profound.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The prolific Chilean filmmaker Raoul Ruiz (“Dialogues of the Exiled”/”Mysteries of Lisbon”/”On Top of the Whale”) has lived in exile in France since the fascist coup in his country in the early 1970s. He is writer-director of this outlandish intellectual costume adventure pic, that is visually pleasing, the actors play multiple roles, it gleefully plays mind games over parallel worlds, follows a tight folklore fantasy narrative and sports a wild imagination that is all over the map. It veers from being silly to being profound.

The pic follows nine stories that move back and forth in time and place, and are somehow interconnected by the director. They include a prankster seminary student developing a loss of faith, a jewel stolen from a painting, a thief and a magical mirror that steals what it reflects, a search for pirate treasure, a love story about lost lovers, brothers who fight over their search for 22 rings from a criminal society, a ghost story that features Socrates, a website that predicts 24 hours in advance what a man will be doing, and a devout middle-aged Catholic man who finds out he’s really Jewish when he’s kidnapped and threatened with death.

It plays out as an acting exercise to show-off the film-makers rich imagination, where he whips together such an unwieldy task and is viewed as a gamer in twisting and untwisting things until anything seems possible and what’s indiscernible in one act might in another be the manna falling from heaven. In this pic, ‘faith is just a fantasy.’ When a thief tries to sell a magical stone that prevents earthquakes, the customer retorts that he likes earthquakes. The humor throughout is that absurd, and not for all tastes.

The idiosyncratic film won the FIPRESCI Award at the 2000 Montreal World Film Festival. It should appeal to Ruiz enthusiasts, but I don’t think it will otherwise make much of an impact with the public. I found it too whimsical and nonsensical to make for more than a curious watch, and is not a masterpiece in the bizarre as it might have been trying to attain.