Wednesday, February 1, 2012


This sumptuous period film from the late Chilean filmmaker Raul Ruiz creates the cinematic equivalent of a Japanese puzzle box merged with a Russian nesting doll -- stories layered within stories that lead to other stories.  The outer story is told by an adult Pedro da Silva (Afonso Pimentel), whom we first meet as a 14-year old boy named João (João Luis Arrais) living in a Portuguese orphanage run by enigmatic Padre Dinis (Adriano Luz).  After suffering a blow to the head, João spends a delirious night during which he believes he was visited by his mother.  With reluctance the padre agrees to tell the boy the truth about his heritage and takes up the story.  We learn of the passion of Angela de Lima (Maria João Bastos) and Don Pedro da Silva (João Baptista).  Their forbidden love leaves him dead and her with child (our João) -- and forcefully betrothed to the ill-mannered Count of Santa Barbara (Albano Jeronimo).  Angela’s father, the Marques de Montezelos (Rui Morrison), hires a thug to dispose of the illegitimate baby, but Padre Dinis (in disguise) pays off the killer in order to hide the child at the orphanage.  The stories continue to branch off as we learn of the padre’s past, leading us to the story of vengeful Elise de Montfort (Clotilde Hesme), leading us to the mysterious and dangerous Alberto de Magalhães (Ricardo Pereira), who has hidden ties to João and his mother.  Carlos Saboga’s sprawling adaptation of Camilo Castelo Branco’s book relishes the details, and André Szankowski’s fluid cinematography follows the leisurely-paced action.  Director Ruiz captures many of his scenes in one continuous, rapturous take as the characters move in and out of the frame or are followed from room to room by the restless camera.  With its hypnotic pace and muted melodrama, the film positions its audience as a sleepwalker or a dreamer, watching the action but never fully involved.  The filmmakers clearly love a long story, and so should the film’s audience.  Clocking in at nearly 4½ hours (with subtitles), this gorgeous tribute to the art of storytelling can tax the patience.  But those with the stamina will be rewarded in a tale well told.

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