Généalogies d'un crime (Genealogies of a Crime), 1997, Raúl Ruiz

Raúl Ruiz

October 20, 2023 to January 10, 2024
Anybody who met Raúl Ruiz during roughly the last decade of his life was well aware of his enthusiasm for science. All branches of science: mathematics, neurobiology, chemistry, physics, medicine, astronomy. He was a happy amateur in those fields, eager not only to read everything at hand but also to consult with, and even participate alongside, the experts (opportunities to do so arrived with his various university teaching and lecturing gigs). Concepts relating to the functioning of the brain (human or animal, awake or asleep), such as the Extended Mind Thesis (EMT), particularly excited him. The more outlandish these concepts sounded – especially to a non-scientist – the better he liked them.
As Ruiz's published diaries reveal, these dabblings in scientific speculation sat within his daily diet of readings in those fields we might more normally expect him to frequent: aesthetics, philosophy, history, world literature, theology, political news. Ruiz was, in short, a voluminous magpie, hungry for inspiration from wherever he could find it. His prodigious imagination worked in a unique way: there was no concept, however abstract or abstruse, that he could not translate or transform into an idea for a scene or an entire story.
Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time novel cycle, for example, struck him as a transposed illustration of philosopher-mathematician-logician Kurt Gödel's concept (building upon Albert Einstein) of dimensional time – and this is exactly what he set out to show in his adaptation of Le Temps retrouvé (1999), and later again in one of his final works, La noche de enfrente (2012).
Ruiz is sometimes misdescribed – for understandable reasons – as a crazy surrealist, a wild storyteller, a merry irrationalist. Certainly, his imagination recognised few limits. But rationality was never absent from his flights of fancy. As he once said, ministry – organisation, ordering, the bureaucratic impulse – is always the reverse-side of poetic mystery. And vice versa.
Self-ministration was an important part of Ruiz's daily life: for instance, his rituals of reading, writing and note-taking for his diary (or rather, several simultaneous diaries) – not to mention his love of cooking, drinking and smoking. So, like the great Luis Buñuel whom he so admired, Ruiz undertook to exercise the "muscle of imagination" in a disciplined, regular manner. Every day a new story, a new thought, a new speculation. Jotting down his own dreams helped fuel this ongoing archive of possible filmic elements.
Ruiz did not simply abandon himself to hallucinatory or meditative visions, in the manner of Alejandro Jodorowsky or David Lynch – even if his films may sometimes give that impression. Rather, his incessant acts of fabulation followed a specific model: what scientists and philosophers call the thought experiment. Take an idea, play with it, see how far it can be logically stretched. Reflecting on his process of adapting Proust in relation to various theories of time, Ruiz indicated his personal starting point: "I wrote a little fiction, a kind of fable, in order to work on this question".
Ruiz's thought experiments had more than a touch of the Theatre of the Absurd – a formative current in his Chilean youth to which he returned when adapting Arthur Adamov's Professor Taranne for the screen in 1987 – and its associated creative philosophy of Pataphysics. In the final lines of his play Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician (1898), Alfred Jarry had declared that "Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions." René Daumal, author of the posthumously published, unfinished classic Mount Analogue (1952), took this orientation much further. His seeming elaborate parodies of scientific thinking were based on solid research and pointed to real possibilities.
Furthermore, there is a striking temperamental affinity between Daumal and Ruiz: their taste for comedy and 'pataphysical laughter.' If, as a spectator, you can't detect the infectious humour in Ruiz's work (however poker-faced it may at times behave), you are definitely on the wrong track. For Daumal as for Ruiz, laughter constituted, in fact, a cosmic principle:
I am Universal, I burst,
I am Particular, I contract;
I become the Universal, I laugh.
Daumal invented allegories, whether narrative or essayistic; his invented characters were symbolic types, ciphers, figures – sometimes hardly more than a name and a single physical trait. Ruiz did very much the same. Fable, allegory and a mode of deliberately hyper-literal illustration: these modes of fiction haunt all of Ruiz's work across the various media he used.
If psychoanalytic theories speak, for example, of a 'mirror phase,' why not place an elaborate two-way mirror game at the heart of a story about psychoanalysis, (Généalogies d'un crime, 1997)? If one of the principles of crime fiction is that cops and detectives should be publicly seen to be doing nothing to crack a case, why not go all the way and have these law enforcers commit to doing nothing whatsoever (Ce jour-là, 2003)?
Ruiz regularly stressed that what mattered to him was not the integrity of a fiction – what we today call the propensity for imaginary 'world-building' – but its potentiality as a bridge between multiple fictional terrains, all of them sketched out, as it were, rather than realistically rendered. On that level, Ruiz was decades ahead of the current popular taste for multiverses, as in Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert's Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). Just look at the dizzy construction of Combat d'amour en songe (2000) – which comes complete with a rapid-fire, introductory address on how to follow its leaping narrative logic through multiple worlds.
Ruiz first developed this taste for narrative bridges in Chile during the 1960s and early '70s. In 2023, Ruiz's brilliant partner and collaborator Valeria Sarmiento has reconstructed El Realismo socialista (shot in 1972 & 1973) for us, crowning the posthumous trilogy constituted by another film from the Chilean period, El tango del viudo y su espejo deformante (1967/2020), and a work arising from a teaching exercise, La Telenovela errante (1990/2017). El Realismo socialista sets two distinct stories in motion about two very distinct individuals and the social milieux they inhabit. Ruiz: "These two stories would touch each other for a single moment, accidentally, and this moment would be secondary in relation to the totality of the film."
What counts in Ruiz's work are these transitions, these hinges – all the screens (film, TV, computer), mirror reflections, paintings and props that enable the spring from one story to another, one space to another. Or, as Ruiz considered and theorised them, the all-important secondary elements that surge to the foreground, form unexpected patterns, and give a work its true texture.
Ruiz always played on the paradox that, although we tend to automatically take any given film as a resolved, homogenous totality, there are nonetheless thousands of discontinuities, ellipses, shadow-zones within it – marks of heterogeneity. As he enjoyed declaring in interviews and classes: "If there are 300 shots, there are 300 films." And even the individual shots in Ruiz sometimes cheekily slide over into different times and spaces, as in Les Âmes fortes (2001) ...
Ruiz the storyteller? Certainly, he loved to hear, to read and to spin tall tales of every sort. However, as a filmmaker and artist, interrupting, complicating and multiplying a storyline was more crucial to him than shaping it according to time-honoured, classical convention. In his wonderful Poetics of Cinema books, Ruiz forcefully outlined his objection to stories generated on 'central conflict theory,' stories that pitted (according to whichever moral code you please) hero against villain and arrived at some cathartic point of exhaustion.
For such narratives could not function as genuine thought experiments; rather, they simply rehearsed, in a lifeless ritual, a society's most sedimented and pacifying assumptions about itself. Ruiz didn't much like tales that wrapped themselves up and explained all their mysteries in the final scene – unless such a denouement could itself be delivered as a wry or disquieting Pataphysical joke, as in L'Œil qui ment (1992) and Comédie de l'innocence (2000).
Rather than driven conflict and identification with 'deep' characters, Ruiz preferred more conceptual story forms. Hence his endlessly renewed taste for embedding (stories within stories), recursive loops (the tale re-begins exactly as it started), paradoxical time-scales (one day can last forever, and forever can last a day – a day which will be eternally repeated). Les Trois couronnes du matelot (1983), La Ville des pirates (1983), Manoel dans l'île des merveilles (TV series, 1984), La Chouette aveugle (1987), Trois vies et une seule mort (1996) oder Mistérios de Lisboa (film & TV series, 2010) – to name only six of Ruiz's finest achievements – explore these twisting, labyrinthine forms.
From Ruiz's diary: "We are full of forgotten regions and days, and those days make up years. Days here, days there that form riotous regions." Both individual and collective destinies are marked by forgetting, oblivion – and this is where the often subterranean political dimension of Ruiz's work surfaces, for instance in Mémoire des apparances (1986).
It is a moot point as to whether, or to what extent, Ruiz actually believed in many (or any) of theories he tinkered with in the invention of his films, writings and other media works. Belief – truth value – was not the crux of the matter for him; he appeared to be, ultimately, an agnostic on most fronts. What really counted was experimentation, grasped in both its artistic and scientific senses: testing and breaking conventions, in order to find a new cinematic language; and playing with all registers of the possible.
To those who complained that his films were cold and cerebral, Ruiz would counter: "There are strong emotions that emerge from forgotten worlds". (Adrian Martin)

The following of Raúl Ruiz's collaborators are expected as guests: Producer Paulo Branco (October 21), Valeria Sarmiento (October 24 and 26), and Ignacio Agüero (October 29). 

A program of Viennale and the Austrian Film Museum

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