Sunday, March 12, 2006

imaginary beings

Brief, scattered thoughts on Raúl Ruiz's On Top of the Whale: A Film About Survival (1982) :

I'd attempted to see this once before, late at night, but perhaps I found Ruiz's images too... dreamy, and I fell asleep less than 30 minutes into the film. My 'revisit' naturally led me to a film I don't ever recall seeing any part of. In the tradition of the other Ruiz films that I've seen from this period, it is also some kind of a deranged masterpiece, oscillating between the maddeningly mind-boggling and the exhilaratingly freeform. Again, it's not possible to talk about any 'plot' without reducing the film to a series of events/nonevents that would only reflect subjective interpretations of the images and the emphatically spoken text. Just some brief observations, some to be re-examined on the inevitable second 'proper' viewing (possible spoilers follow, I guess):
  • The film approaches magical realism at times, such as the tongue-cutting scene, and at the mention of the suicide of Luis, which hauntingly recalls Eva's earlier narration of something similar (sorry to be so vague - several scenes that revolve around Eva in the second half of the film are impossibly abstracted). Also, the story about his grandfather's house that Narcisso tells his guests on their first night in seems to be entirely supernatural in every sense of the word - and interestingly it's not heard by anyone in the room since they're all only semi-awake! Just more words burnt away in the first of many incomplete communicative processes.
  • This seems, to me, to be Ruiz's most beautifully-shot film (its isolated sepia-toned longeurs of landscape-gazing top anything in Time Regained and Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting). The ever-shifting visual tableau seem to compete with, and be suppressed by, the multiplying language, the spoken text.
  • The use of colour and mirrors again recalls two Orson Welles films: The Lady from Shanghai and The Immortal Story. The latter always seemed to be an important film for Ruiz, its deliberate transforming of myth to reality echoed the reincarnation of the paintings in Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting to tableau vivants.
  • What other film will allow the first-person narrator to give up and escape the narrative by rowing away on a canoe, leaving us to deal with the film's ever-densifying (and linguistically-branching) Patagonian Indians and Eva, the wayward significant other?! And then have him mysteriously return at the end and have his hypotheses rejected by the subjects of his anthropological studies - in a language he can finally understand!
And I wonder where exactly the title is from. I read somewhere it is a Borgesian reference, which is fitting.


Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Mubarak, I've been meaning the past several days to compliment you on this entry--I can definitely sympathize with your fascination--and even perhaps frustration--with this brilliant film. Maybe repeated viewings over the course of this calendar year, accompanied by repeated blog entries, will be necessary?

12:13 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Zach, I knew you'd written about the film on your blog but I just couldn't find the post, so thanks for that link. Incredibly fascinating piece, too.

Your repeated blogging idea for this film might just be what needs to be done. Ruiz's cinema in general could use this! That and wider availability, of course. Especially from this very mysterious/mythic phase of his career.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

I think sometime in the next few weeks I will be doing some Ruiz-blogging ...

2:30 PM  

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