Mysteries of Lisbon (2010)


The four and a half hour film directed by the great Portuguese filmmaker Raoul Ruiz and written by Carlos Saboga. The length might terrify you, but the movie is quite possibly a masterpiece. It’s basically a series of short stories gathered together under one roof by somewhat loosely putting a boy (and later young man), the illegitimate son of an heiress and who has been hidden away in a Catholic school, as the narrator and center of much of the action. All the stories revolve around people who fall in love so passionate that it takes over their lives and dictates their actions, including a jealous countess; a pirate who has worked his way into Portuguese society; a man who runs off with another man’s wife; and the heiress and her murdered lover. The results are invariably tragic, though touched by spiritual forgiveness (with the characters often ending up joining the Church as priests and nuns). The way the various encounters interact and turn up in each others stories suggest Dickens and other Victorian writers, which makes sense since the novel, by the prolific author Camilo Castelo Branco, was written in 1854. However, the non-linear structure of the movie suggests a very modern approach, something closer to Luis Bunuel or even Quentin Tarantino; in the end, it’s what is known as a puzzle movie. The story also takes its own sweet time, not rushing any of its myriad plots. Some people might find this taxing, but I was slowly enticed into this world and the director’s style of telling his story until I had to know how it all turned out. The movie is beautiful to look at. The cinematography, by Andre Szankowski, captures the drama in a never ending series of tableau like paintings. The characters all live in mansions of captivating good taste (art director, Isabel Branco; set decorator, Paula Szabo). And the lovely costumes (Tania Franco) go a long way in helping one keep the different time periods clear. Ricardo Pereira gives the performance that stands out the most as the reformed pirate with eyes so piercing he can make people faint (he lives in a newly redecorated mansion where he constantly yells at the servants for not working hard enough and who has one servant who never stops moving—the servant runs wherever he goes, and when he stops, he bobs up and down on his legs).

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