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Mysteries of Lisbon

  • Film
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Afonso Pimentel in Mysteries of Lisbon.
Afonso Pimentel in Mysteries of Lisbon

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars
‘Mysteries of Lisbon’ is Chilean director Raoul Ruiz’s mellifluous, flashback-driven melodrama in two parts which was his penultimate completed film before he died at the age of 70 in August 2011. This magnificent work clocks in at four hours and 16 minutes, and one reason to try and shoehorn it into your schedule is that it’s being heralded as the summation of Ruiz’s gigantic career, during which he put his name to more than 100 features, shorts and TV series. It deserves to be mentioned alongside such opulent costume epics as Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’, Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ or Ruiz’s own ‘Time Regained’, though it’s also a must for fans of the slow-burning, dialogue-driven TV series the BBC made in the 1970s and ’80s, such as ‘Edge of Darkness’ or ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’.

Set in Lisbon around the turn of the twentieth century (but always skipping back and forth in time), this colossal journey begins with a young orphan named João wondering if he’ll ever know who his parents are. The man who runs the orphanage is the benevolent Father Dinis (Adriano Luz), a man revealed as João’s life-long protector and who, it transpires, has been intricately involved in the messy business of João’s parentage. Another man, a drunken, belching gypsy known as Knife-Eater (Ricardo Pereira), is given a passage into high society under the alias of Alberto de Magalhães when Dinis (now playing the master of disguise) buys his loyalty away from a nobleman who has paid him to slay João at birth.

Endlessly discursive yet always controlled and compelling, ‘Mysteries of Lisbon’ examines the complexities of love and marriage while assuring that secrets exist only to be revealed and that the course of our lives is constantly manipulated by the tiny, off-hand desires of others. The script, which is adapted from a little-known novel by Portuguese writer Camilo Castelo Branco, makes sly references to the story’s self-contained neatness, such as when Dinis announces in a voiceover that ‘in life, there are events and coincidences of such extravagance that no novelist would ever dare invent them…’

The production design and costumes are immaculate, while Ruiz’s camera glides around soirées, ducks under tables and peers from behind curtains. The suggestion is that it’s a world any innocent bystander can infiltrate, but also that immersing yourself in other people’s petty affairs can be surprisingly engrossing if you view them from the correct vantage point. So actually, we’re not just asking you to make room for Ruiz’s breathtaking soap opera, but to block-book a week, a month, a year to (re)discover the largely unknown back catalogue of this quietly virtuoso and sadly departed filmmaker.
Written by David Jenkins

Release Details

  • Rated:PG
  • Release date:Friday 9 December 2011
  • Duration:272 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Raúl Ruiz
  • Screenwriter:Carlos Saboga
  • Cast:
    • Maria João Bastos
    • Clotilde Hesme
    • Adriano Luz
    • Miguel Pereira
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