Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Fado majeur et mineur (Raoul Ruiz, 1994)

To all but a handful of cinematic voyagers, Raoul Ruiz will always represent an impossible dream of sorts: the work is too copious, too obscure, too hard to track down (even the spelling of his first name varies constantly). The filmography comprises well over a hundred works, and some of them might for all practical purposes be unseen (I may have seen around twenty, which must already place me in rare company). Fado majeur et mineur should have some advantages in relative visibility – it has some well-known cast members and appears to have been filmed and financed in relatively straightforward circumstances – and yet an Internet search provides only a single English-language commentary of any kind, and that just a bewildered, dismissive Variety review from its film festival premiere. One must enter the film then without guardrails or signposts, which as it happens aligns the viewer with its bewildered, amnesiac protagonist as he tries to make sense of a series of strange encounters. The narrative has elements of a jigsaw, vaguely circling around culpability for a death, or maybe several, but it’s a Ruiz-style jigsaw in multiple dimensions, in which the completed picture will appear fragmentary to all but, perhaps, God (and a priest does play a key role in the home stretch). Ruiz’s is a gorgeous cinema of layers – he’s drawn to compositions which capture people and objects in different planes, often foregrounding inanimate objects (or objects that should be inanimate, such as a self-propelling hat); to relationships that mutate and twist; to language that compulsively pivots and bounces and digresses. The title resonates not so much for the direct musical reference as for the mournfulness that traditionally marks the Fado genre; yet in the end Ruiz’s film feels found, not lost. At once deeply dislocated and yet culturally and temporally specific, almost austere in its singularity and yet possessing a classic vein of “art-movie” eroticism, the film is a gorgeous frustration, of a kind that makes much of even the best cinema seem under-engaged and conventional.

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