Het dak van de Walvis (1982)


(director/writer: Raúl Ruiz; screenwriter: Roland Kay; cinematographers: Henri Alékan/Theo Bierkens; editor: Valeria Sarmiento; music: Jorge Arriagada; cast: Willeke van Ammelrooy (Eva), Herbert Curiel (Adam), Amber DeGrauw (Eden), Fernando Bordeu (Narcisso Cambos), Jean Badin (anthropologist); Runtime: 93; Kino; 1982-Netherlands)
“A linguistic fantasy set in the near-future from acclaimed Chilean director Raúl Ruiz.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A linguistic fantasy set in the near-future from acclaimed Chilean director Raúl Ruiz (The Golden Boat), who now lives in Paris. It is set in Patagonia, but shot almost exclusively in a plain house in Holland. It’s a fable about survival, that takes a political stab at figuring out the ill-effects of exploitation and how too much culture could lead to barbarism. It is not convincing as a formal discourse on the evils of colonialism, but it is always reaching out for more than that as it parses different languages and uses anthropology to bring up questions that ultimately can’t be answered. An intellectual puzzler without solutions that is made for arthouse film buffs who can dig its parody of linguistics and anthropology. It’s an inventive film that demands to be seen more than once, and might be only for an intellectually inclined elitist audience that is accepting of a non-linear and inaccessible storyline.

The film begins in futuristic Holland which, like several other European nations, has become a communist republic. An anthropologist, specializing in the study of primitive tribes and their ability to communicate by collective telepathy, bribes his way to attend an important official communist event and is introduced by his attractive anthropologist redheaded wife Eva (Ammelrooy) to the mysterious communist millionaire Narcisso Cambos (Bordeu) who has a better seat than them and therefore she assumes must be more important than they are. He graciously invites them to his island house in Patagonia, after learning of the couple’s interest in the Indian culture. He claims that living near him are Adam and Eden, the last two surviving members of the ancient Yachanes Indian tribe generally thought extinct.

The anthropologist is obsessed by the mysteries of their culture, their behavior, and especially their language (different meanings are produced by varying the inflections on one single word as there are no such things as singular words). It’s a language which appears to consist of only 60 words, which is all that’s needed to communicate. Meanwhile, his wife and Narcisso develop a romantic and ideological connection and she leaves him to live here with Narcisso. He only returns to see if they are happy and to have a last word with the two Indian survivors.

The film was shot in five languages (one of them the imaginary Indian one).