Mysteries of Lisbon

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Ral Ruiz's four-and-a-half-hour period melodrama (set mostly in 19th-century Lisbon) is filled with mesmerizing performances and sinuous imagery. The emotional center of this Dickensian tale—adapted from a highly regarded Portuguese novel—is Pedro, a boarding-school orphan with a mysterious past. After his caretaker introduces him to a woman who claims to be his mother, the secrets of Pedro's upbringing slowly reveal themselves. But they're not just his secrets—everyone in his life (even tangential acquaintances) has a story to tell. There's a priest who's an adventurous master of disguise; a villainous cutthroat who becomes a wealthy nobleman; a jealous countess with a gnawing desire for revenge. Ruiz juggles, mixes and melds each narrative thread with awe-inspiring effortlessness. It feels as if this story could go on forever, and you'd gladly follow it.—Keith Uhlich

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