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Review: Mysteries of Lisbon

Raúl Ruiz's legacy
By PETER KEOUGH  |  August 23, 2011
3.5 3.5 Stars

Some directors may be as accomplished, but none are as weird as Raúl Ruiz. That's only one reason I love the guy. Sadly, he died last week at the age of 70. This, the latest of his some 100 films adapts the sprawling 19th century novel by the Portuguese writer Camilo Castelo Branco into a radiant palimpsest of interlocking narratives. Pedro (played as a child by João Arrais and as an adult by José Afonso Pimental), a melancholy orphan in a school run by kindly Fr. Dinis (Martin Loizillon,) is bullied because of his illegitimate birth. When Pedro vows revenge, Fr. Dinis tells him the story of his parents, relating a parable about a countess, her brutish husband, and her lover that itself spins off into other recollections from the points of view of those characters, whose tales also exfoliate into new ones — all drawing toward a unity that just eludes comprehension. Ruiz's gorgeous, painterly visuals are shot from startling angles and work alongside his precise, anarchic, and gleefully absurd narrative to evoke a heightened reality that plumbs the mysteries of life.

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