PLOT: An unseen narrator explains that an exhibition of seven related paintings from the fictional artist Fredéric Tonnerre caused a scandal in the 19th century and were removed from public view. We are then introduced to the Collector, who owns six of the seven paintings—one of them has been stolen, he explains, leaving the story told through the artwork incomplete. Using live actors to recreate the canvases, the Collector walks through the paintings and constructs a bizarre interpretation of their esoteric meaning.
Raoul Ruiz is credited with more than 100 films in a career that lasted from 1964 until his death in 2011.
Ruiz was originally hired by a French television channel to produce a documentary on writer/painter Pierre Klossowski. The project morphed into this fictional story that adapts themes and plots from several of Klossowski’s works, especially “La Judith de Frédéric Tonnerre” and “Baphomet.”
Many of the figurants in the tableaux vivants were writers and staff from the influential journal “Cahiers du Cinema.” Future film star Jean Reno, in his first screen appearance, is also among those posing.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Obviously, one of the tableaux vivants—the three dimensional recreations of Tonnerre’s paintings featuring motionless, silent actors. From Diana and the hunt to Knights Templar playing chess, these are (perhaps) inexplicable scenes which, the narrator explains, “play[s] carefully on our curiosity as spectators who arrived too late.” The strangest of all is the tableau of a young man stripped to the waist with a noose around his neck, surrounded by men, one holding a cross, others in turbans and brandishing daggers, and three of whom are conspicuously pointing at objects within the scene. Hanging above them is a suspended mask.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: The hanged youth; whispering narrator; Knights Templar of Baphomet
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Performed with art house restraint in an impishly surreal spirit, this labyrinthine, postmodern meditation on art criticism plays like a Peter Greenaway movie done in the style of Last Year at Marienbad, adapted from a lost Jorge Luis Borges story.
FEATURING: Sergio Hernández, Santiago Figueroa, Christian Vadim, Valentina Vargad, Chamila Rodriguez, Pedro Villagra, Sergio Schmied
PLOT: An old man recalls his childhood, when he used to carry on conversations with Long John Silver and Ludwig van Beethoven, as he waits in a boarding house for the man who will kill him to arrive.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s a fine, absurd death movie. We suspect Ruiz has fielded better candidates to make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time, but this one carries an extra poignancy due to the fact that we are watching an artist sail into the sunset under his own power. Night Across the Street is Ruiz’ posthumous jibe at mortality.
COMMENTS: “Time seems to stumble here,” muses a character (amusingly, the line is delivered immediately following a jump cut). “The hours don’t follow one another.” Our main character, Don Celso, is talking to Jean Giono, a somewhat obscure French writer who died in 1970 but whom he meets in a translation seminar, presumably in the present day. Celso is used to chatting with such apparitions; as a child, he used to hold conversations with Beethoven (whom he takes to see a cowboy movie) and the fictional pirate Long John Silver (who predicts that someone close to the boy will die, only to find that every victim he suggests is already dead).
Night Across the Street‘s sense of being lost in a sea of memory where the distant past shares equal billing with the present should be familiar to anyone who has ever observed grandpa recalling his first kiss in the seventh grade as if it happened yesterday, while simultaneously forgetting where he put his keys and how to operate the remote control. The first forty minutes of the movie are full of flashbacks to Celso’s boyhood, leading us to fear that Night will one of those dull, reverential movies full of the bittersweet reminiscences of an old man reflecting back on a life speckled with triumphs and tragedies; but the last two-thirds of the film, dealing with the approach of death and its aftermath, prove far more interesting than the setup. The forcibly retired Celso is waiting for the man who will kill him to arrive, you see, and when the boarding house matron’s nephew, a poet, comes to stay, he thinks his killer has finally arrived. In a convoluted parody of drawing room murder mysteries and noirish twists, the nephew is planning to kill the old man for his money, while romancing his own aunt and a dancer/prostitute who also lives at the home. Meanwhile, Don Celso is trying to talk an assassin, who is a client of the dancer, out of killing the nephew.
It gets stranger from there, as rumors of murder start to fly and the movie’s dream sequences start having their own dream sequences. In the world of this movie, no distinction could be less important than the one between fantasy and reality (unless it is perhaps the one between past and present). Only the difference between life and death truly matters, but even that line proves difficult to draw. Different permutations of the story coexist, overlapped onscreen: it’s a surreally garbled tale of murder, a young boy’s ominous premonitions of the future, an old man’s dying dream, a self-conscious metafiction, and the memoirs of a ghost, all at the same time. It ends as a haunted house tale set in a cursed boarding house, a place where the ghosts are haunted by their own meta-ghosts. The movie sports a delightful sense of intellectual play, especially wordplay (the lectures on translation, poetry recitations, a running gag about a crossword clue, and the main character’s obsession with the word “rhododendron”). Nothing could be more absurd than death. With his extremely odd and dry sense of humor intact until the end, Ruiz laughs at death—not defiantly, but with genuine befuddled amusement.
Raoul Ruiz made over 100 movies in his lifetime, some in his native Chile and many in France where he lived in exile during the Pinochet regime. In 2010 he was diagnosed with cancer and received a successful liver transplant. He shot Night Across the Street in March of April of 2011; in August of that same year he died of a lung infection. He did preparatory work on one final movie, Linhas de Wellington (Lines of Wellington), a historical drama set in the Napoleonic Wars, which was completed by his widow Valeria Sarmiento.
(This movie was nominated for review by Dwarf Oscar, who called it “a splendid and utterly weird movie, released after the filmmaker’s death, which brings a poignant resonance with the subjects tackled in the film.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
FEATURING: Jean-Bernard Guillard, Philippe Deplanche
PLOT: A weary sailor promises a desperate student passage on a sailing ship, but first he
relates tales of his surreal adventures in ports around the world.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s easier to think of reasons Three Crowns of the Sailor should make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies than reasons it shouldn’t. It won’t make it on the first ballot because it lacks a “wow” factor; with its subtle, literary tone, it’s more of a slow burn movie, one that seems likely to grow in stature the more one thinks about it. Time will tell whether it will end up Listed among the best; in the meantime, director Raoul Ruiz has better known movies that may deserve Listing before this one.
COMMENTS: In the first post-credits sequence of Three Crowns of the Sailor, a student is discussing his crimes in the first person; as he wanders the streets in post-offense panic, he begins talking about himself in the third person. This is an appropriate digression, because in Crowns one character is always turning into another. Situations, dialogues and symbols recur with variations; one of the crew of the cursed ship Funchalese will often blame his actions on “the other,” some perpetual double always hiding out below decks. The film’s main themes are storytelling (stories are told inside of other stories), forgetfulness, otherness, and escape, and totems also show up across the seaman’s wandering tales, especially jewelry and money. The nameless sailor continually borrows money from his seafaring brethren, keeping himself in a constant state of debt that ties him to the ship. Each of the episodes the sailor relates are absurd—such as the time he fell for the exotic dancer with only one orifice, or when his shipmates give birth to worms through their boils—but they are also verbally and intellectually playful, inspired almost as much by Jorge Luis Borges as by Luis Buñuel. Each of the sailors is tattooed with a single letter, to stress that they are all individual elements that go together to form a sentence and eventually a story. Our old salt is rescued by a child who lives inside a vast house with edges he has never been able to locate in his explorations. The sailor tells him his life story, but the boy informs him that those anecdotes have already been told in the books that line the house’s infinite walls. Other memorable conceits include children chanting the 365 names of the male organ outside a bordello window, a sentence served in prison with a guru who teaches the inmates the basics of theology, and a second prophet, a black supremacist who requests three Danish crowns. The sailor’s bizarre tour of the world’s exotic ports plays with reality in a way that’s deliberately intended to confound; the framing story where he encounters the student adheres to a fantastical folktale logic that makes for a pleasing contrast. If you’re in the mood for literate confusion with a vein of humor as black and dry as gunpowder, you couldn’t do much better than Three Crowns of a Sailor.
Incredibly, Three Crowns of a Sailor was made for broadcast on French television. According to Ruiz the story was inspired by “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and a Chilean legend about a ship of the dead.
(This movie was nominated for review by Irene, who explained it featured “a lot of mystic characters, events, Latin America ‘bordelieras’, beautiful ‘putas’, and when you see worms squeezed out of boils on a sailor’s chest, and later these worms metamorphosing into poisonous butterflies killing the birds who eat them, you understand that this movie is to be mentioned here.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
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