Old Hollywood lushness envelops you when you submit to Raoul Ruiz's discursive 19th-century epic---and submit to it you will, if you hope to get anything close to a return on your four hours and change of patient commitment. (Mysteries of Lisbon was made for segmented TV, a better match, one suspects, than theaters.) Dark cellos swirl---the score, by Jorge Arriagada, is a knockout---as we plunge into the chatty plot machinations of Portuguese novelist Camilo Castelo Branco's door-stopper, initially about an orphaned boy, Joo (Arrais), seeking to meet his aristocratic mother (Bastos) with the help of a clergyman (Luz).
This is but the first episode of an impossible-to-summarize narrative that has, among other things, a love triangle, several flashbacks and a rude gypsy called the Knife-Eater. So why doesn't all the painterly incident add up to an emotional wallop? Ruiz's most successful effort is still 1999's Time Regained, and that's a clue: Comfortable with subtle Proustian detachment, the director has taken another stab at colossal scope, this time getting lost in the cerebral folds. On the festival circuit, comparisons to Barry Lyndon were a touch hasty; rich imagery in itself can't do the heavy lifting of a compelling central figure.
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