Wednesday, July 25, 2012

La Noche de Enfrente, dir. Raul Ruiz, 2012

Raùl Ruiz’s final film, La Noche de Enfrente is charming. In the vein of a true Ruiz narrative it’s a film that flows easily and incomprehensibly between past and present, between life and death. It moves effortlessly between French and Spanish, where words are uttered to joke, to dream, to remember and to muse on what might have been but is yet still to come. Language like time, is fluid and non-rational, it is poetic like the narrative world of Don Celso’s contemporary Chile in La Noche de Enfrente.

We first meet the retired Don Celso, the protagonist, in a poetry class for adults, and all of a sudden, his alarm clock goes off – disturbing the class. But he is old and we forgive him because he needs to take his medication on time. We follow him home, out to dinner, to his childhood, to his death and into the magical world of his fantasies all the way to the afterlife. He lives with a vast collection of sailing boats in bottles, the physical articulation of his unmoored journey through life, as Ruiz narrates it.

Young Don Celso with Beethoven
In one of the most delightful scenes, the young Don Celso goes to the movies with Beethoven and his young friend. Beethoven is incensed by the violent aggression of the men towards women and wants to stop a murderer on his spree: he runs up to the screen and tries to stop him, interrupting everyone else’s view of the movie until the young Don Celso pulls him back from the screen. Beethoven doesn’t understand that a film is a beam of light creating figures in motion through a world that does not exist. And, of course, Beethoven wouldn’t understand because the cinema wasn’t invented in the eighteenth century, when he was alive. Beethoven reappears as a bust placed on the table when Don Celso has dinner with his friend as an adult: like an empty wine bottle, Beethoven is then removed by a waiter as the conversation comes to an end. 

Like Beethoven’s incredulity at the illusions presenting themselves as reality in the cinema, Ruiz pays homage to both his love of the cinema and its trickery. Inside a hotel where a lot of the action takes place, the wind blows just as it does in the most torrid of melodramas. And outside, all is impossibly, perfectly still. On the beach when Don Celso the child talks to Long John Silver of having lived his life still to come, people in a projected backdrop walk forwards and backwards, in reverse motion as only the cinema can do. And all of the well-know Ruiz ruses to break the continuity of cinematic rules abound in La Noche de Enfrente. Spaces proliferate, changing across the edits that enable them to do so. Mirrors around the living room in the hotel repeat the space, doors are opened and the rooms on the other side appear and disappear. Like Un Chien Andalou spaces are impossibly connected, and they move effortlessly between different eras.

In another delightful scene that reminds us this film is Ruiz’s farewell to the cinema and to the world before he would die in August 2011, the dead sit down to séance and call up the living. And when they arrive, like all good ghosts, invisibly touching and haunting the dead, it turns out they too are dead, having been shot in a massacre that was meant to have happened to the dead at the séance. And in the final scenes the dead Don Celso ruminates on his time in the afterlife with a cast of characters who have been dead for centuries.

Death is everywhere the anticipation of this film and indeed, is the reason for its circular motions and digressions. Don Celso, like Ruiz, awaits his death, but the former anticipates a man will come to kill him, while the latter is fittingly already dead by the time the film appears. As a boy Don Celso tells Long John Silver that he lives alone, because his father who speaks to him and continues to set the rules, is dead. He died yesterday. And he speaks of his mother in the present tense, suggesting she is alive, but then when asked, she too is already dead.

This film isn’t sumptuous like some others such as Mysteries of Lisbon, it’s funny. There’s something hurried about La Noche de Enfrente, or perhaps this is my imagination, the final film by a man whose oeuvre refuses to be hemmed in by the structures and organizing principles of representation or the worlds it echoes. Most notably, this is an elegy about a man who was not dead, sometimes through the eyes of his child self who knew of his impending death, and an elegy for Ruiz who himself was not yet dead. It is, quite simply, a film about growing old and what it means, where we go, when we die. Ruiz continues to inspire, even from beyond the grave. How perfect that his final film is released a whole year after he died. 

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