Who Is Raúl Ruiz?

Posted by Nicholas Kemp on 8.3.2011

Raúl Ruiz is 70 years old.  In just under 50 years he's directed more than 100 films in a multitude of languages including Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, English, German and Dutch.  Raised in Chile, he left in 1974 for Paris following Pinochet’s coup d’état and subsequent persecution of the nation’s intellectuals and dissidents.  There he became somewhat of an enfant terrible of the Parisian vanguard.  Embraced by critics, he went on to win awards at festivals in Cannes, Berlin, Venice and beyond, and is one of very few cineastes to have an entire issue of Cahiers du Cinéma devoted to his work.

It is not as suprising as one might think that in his early career Ruiz split his time between creating avant-garde theater and writing for Mexican telenovelas; this contrast of high and low art pervades much of his body of work.  Mysteries of Lisbon, the latest of his films to come to the states, is no exception.  Originally produced as a six-and-a-half hour serial for Portuguese television, it is based on a 19th century Portuguese feuilleton by Camilo Castelo Branco.  That work is an epic and at times meandering account of the Lisbon aristocracy during the civil wars of Branco's youth.  Feuilletons arose out of gossip sections that originally appeared in French political newspapers—their modern day equivalent might be The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town”—but soon morphed into serials that combined news, gossip and melodrama.  Today the French word literally means "soap opera."

In addition to keeping up a blistering pace as film director, Ruiz has continued to direct for theater and television.  He is also a noted film theorist and has taught at Harvard as well as at universities across Europe.  Neither his age nor his recent bout with liver cancer have showed signs of slowing him down.  His cancer was diagnosed early in the production of Mysteries of Lisbon and was initially thought to be inoperable, but between and after several operations that culminated in a full liver transplant, he managed to finish the film and even went on to direct another.  With several more projects in the works, it's safe to say this won't be the last time you see Raúl Ruiz's name on the marquee.

Mysteries of Lisbon opens on Friday, August 5th at the Elinor Bunin Munroe. Two shows daily. Tickets are on sale now.

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