Master director, Raul Ruiz must have been well-pleased that his last work, Mysteries of Lisbon, is such an inviting and engaging piece of cinema. Ruiz died this summer, but this 4 hour melodrama, along with his long list of film credits will endure. Ruiz is never in a hurry to tell this story (based on the novel by Camilo Castelo Branco) of a boy searching for his roots. Why is he called simply João, with no last name? Who are his parents? Are they alive? How did he end up in a convent school? We, the audience, wonder about these questions too as we are introduced to João, played by João Arrais, whose solemn brown eyes echo the void in his character's life. This young actor is an equal match to the actor, Adriano Luz, who plays the sympathetic Pardre Dinis, the keeper of many secrets. Also noteworthy is the performance of Ricardo Pereira who style is reminiscent of Errol Flynn, but with Pereira's own brand of unbridled sexuality.
More than a costume froth, Mysteries of Lisbon, is an intricately layered puzzle piece of a melodrama; just when you think you've begun to understand a central character, aspects of their nature and glimpses of their personal histories are revealed. With the legato pacing style, the smooth transition from one mystery to another, and actors that fit the period scenes this journey that takes us from Portugal, to Spain, France and Italy, seems much shorter than its actual running time of 274 minutes.
If I have one criticism, it is that I would have liked to have seen the entire 6-hour version that Ruiz completed, and which ran on Portuguese television. As good a job as is done condensing the film into a 4-hour version, you do get the feeling that there are stories that remain untold. So, like João this version leaves us with a bit of mystery. I'm not sure if a longer film version is available, but this 4-hour version is the one that played to positive crowds at TIFF 2010, and which the Lightbox is screening until November 17th. Yes, this version is worth seeing on a larger screen, I just wish that I could have viewed the remaining hours on a large screen as well.
TIFF Bell Lightbox
350 King West (corner of King and John streets)
Monday, Nov. 14, 6:15pm
Tuesday, Nov. 15, 12:00 noon, 6:15pm
Wednesday, Nov. 16, 12:00 noon, 6:15pm
Thursday, Nov. 17, 12:00 noon, 6:15pm