There is a Latin tradition of storytelling that starts with Cervantes and Don Quixote. It consists in fabricating realities, parallel or intertwining, in which different elaborate worlds exist, next to or nested within each other. Each world engenders or is engendered by a new one and each acts as a framework for stories where characters deal with notions of fate, coincidence, chance, encounters, dreams, truth, and fantasy. Out of the sum of these parts emerges, in what seems like a very organic way, a larger reality which every small episode seems to point to.
It is exquisite to witness cinematic life invested in this notion. Currently, only two filmmakers, both Spanish, sucessfully travel such territory. Almodovar and Medem, and both include notions of self-reference, creation about this type of creation, just as well. Medem’s “Lucia y el Sexo” is the current cornerstone for this. It is a dangerous film. Sheer physicality drives the emotions, which themselves engender the different worlds. It shows us worlds we wish to inhabit but pushes us to be their creators as well.
And now I meet Ruiz, another Latin man, Chilean. This encouter is not as life-altering as meeting Medem (or Almodovar for that matter), but you can see that they attended the same school, were in the same class, have the same soul. It’s but the mind that gives things their different shapes.
We have multiple narrators, multiple narrations, nested stories, parralel realities, and role-swapping. I was mostly impressed by the role-swapping bout, because it involves an actor already playing a double role in the film. Deneuve is apt here, but one could dream of Streep, or Penn, experts at this stuff precisely, acting on several layers simultaneously. (Penn explains some of these methods in his book).
You may have a hard time renting this so here’s a quick rundown. A woman is murdered by her nephew for reasons yet unknown. A few years later, the nephew finds himself somewhere in the city looking for shelter. He enters a woman’s house whom he finds charming, and she agrees to shelter him. The charming woman soon enough murders him. It is later revealed that this woman was the aunt, returning as a ghost, to avenge her death.
Now, that is the wrapper only. Within this, we have a multitude of carefully weaved narratives. Deneuve plays our lawyer/detective trying to de-construct it all. Picolli plays a crazy conspirator who orchestrates re-enactments of classic stories (from classic novels) that serve as rationales for murders. And we have a professor with a dry sense of humour who keeps on professing that the key of all mysteries is something he calls “narrative syndrome”. He is, of course, Ruiz himself.
The production values are artful but limited. As a result, the worlds are less charming, possibly less engaging. But this seems like a limited-budget exercise for Ruiz. One he uses to advertise his real concern beyond psychoanalysis or “the mind of a criminal”: the impact of narrative.
I don’t particularly recommend this film, unless you are writing a script or interested in narrative theory. Of course, if you want to enrich your life with these notions of self-awareness, this makes the canon. But Ruiz has accessible, more acclaimed, movies. Same nucleus, but more charming. This is a sober experiment from his notebook.