La Noche de Enfrente (2012)


(director/writer: Raul Ruiz; screenwriter: based on original stories by Hernán del Solar; cinematographer: Inti Briones; editors: Valeria Sarmiento/Raul Ruiz/Christian Aspee; music: Jorge Arriagada; cast: Sergio Hernandez (Don Celso Barra), Christian Vadim (Jean Giono), Pedro Villagra (Captain Long John Silver), Valentina Vargad (Nigilda), Chamila Rodriguez (Rosina), Santiago Figueroa (Celso, as a young boy), Sergio Schmied (Beethoven); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Christian Aspee/François Margolin; Cinema Guild; 2012-France/Chilein Spanish and French, with English subtitles)
The arty, poignant and thought-provoking sentimental film, about life as a never-ending journey, should appeal mostly to Ruiz’s devoted fan base.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Living in France in exile since the 1970s, for political reasons, the 70-year-old prolific Chilean director Raul Ruiz(“Top of the Whale”/”Three Crowns of the Sailor”/”City of Pirates”), who made more than a 100 films, returns to shoot in his native Chile his final film. It’s an elegant, strange and enigmatic, surrealistic pic, which was released after his death in 2011. It’s inspired from the children’s short story writings of Chilean author Hernán del Solar. The arty, poignant and thought-provoking sentimental film, about life as a never-ending journey, examines the art of dying. It’s a playful dramatic film, that should appeal mostly to Ruiz’s devoted fan base and has little chance of reaching a commercial audience. Though it could be a special treat for the uninitiated who are not afraid to take in a film that is markedly unique and difficult to fully comprehend because it’s so intellectually elusive and personal.

In the port of Antofagasta, the elderly dying bachelor office worker Don Celso Barra (Sergio Hernández), the director’s alter-ego, is a dreamer experiencing a premonition about his impending death (in real-life the director had a liver transplant the year before) and is forced to retire. Thereby Celso begins bizarre imaginary conversations from his past, starting with himself as a child (Santiago Figueroa) conversing with the renown French writer-cum-poetry-teacher Jean Giono (Christian Vadim), someone who never stepped foot in Chile. Also with the subversive poet Giono when Celso’s old and letting us see how much he always loved the intricacies of language and is thanking the venerable poet for giving him a heads up on poetry. Other fantasies involve Celso listening to the fictional pirate Captain Long John Silver (Pedro Villagra) spin some wild yarns about life at sea, which gave him life lessons early on to live a robust life no matter his circumstances. The one he calls his favorite historical figure, Beethoven (Sergio Schmied), appears in person and they touch base when Celso takes in the 20th century his musician hero to the cinema and has him asking questions about the medium.

Other visions are personal about Celso worrying about being assassinated by a mysterious figure, the possible massacre in a boarding house he was staying at, suicides of friends, grudges with old rivals, possible romantic entanglements, and political conflicts that lingered on from his youth.

I couldn’t help feeling a sense of loss that this great artistic filmmaker would no longer be with us to turn out his wonderfully arcane pics that I always looked forward to. This haunting, imaginative and exuberant metaphoric film, like all of Ruiz’s triumphs, lets us know with clarity that “Without ideas, you’ll lose your youth.”


REVIEWED ON 10/22/2013 GRADE: A-