Friday, January 3, 2014

Movie Review: Night Across the Street

Night Across the Street
Directed by: Raúl Ruiz.
Written by: Raúl Ruiz based on the stories by Hernán del Solar.
Starring: Sergio Hernández (Celso Robles), Christian Vadim (Professor Giono), Santiago Figueroa (Celso Niño), Valentina Vargas (Nigilda), Chamila Rodríguez (Rosina), Pedro Vicuña (Antenor), Cristián Gajardo (Rolo Pedro), Pedro Villagra (Capitain),Pablo Krögh (Gural Piriña), Marcial Edwards (Jefe), Valentina Muhr (Laurita Petrafiel).

Chilean director Raul Ruiz knew he was dying when he made Night Across the Street – which ended up being the final feature he completed in a career that spanned 50 years and 119 directing credits – including shorts, documentaries and TV work to go along with his many features. This has to rank him among the most prolific directors in history. Yet, I suspect I am not alone in not being overly familiar with his filmography. The only other Ruiz film I saw before Night Across the Street was his four and half hour epic Mysteries of Lisbon (2010). Perhaps that’s why I found it a little hard to wrap my head around the film – which I found cryptic and surreal and more than a little confusing.

The film is a meditation on memory and death and casts Sergio Hernandez as Celso Robles – an office worker about to retire, who starts remembering things from his past – some real and some wholly imagined. The first part of the film makes us think that the film, for all its surreal qualities, may be simple nostalgia – which would be understandable from a director on the verge of death. Yet things are not as simple as that. Ruiz may have known he was dying, but that doesn’t stop him from experimenting right to the end. The film was shot digitally, and unlike some directors who seem intent on making digital look exactly like film (a fine goal) – Ruiz decides to utilize the heightened color palettes and contrasts between light and dark that film can simply not do. The film also gets much darker as it goes along – a gun makes an appearance in the later stages of the film, and more than one person will meet their end by this gun.

The film takes place part in the real world in part in Celso's dreams and fantasies – although Ruiz makes no real effort to tell you which is which. The easiest way would be to identify the characters he is talking to – like Beethoven, who doesn’t really like his first experience with movies – or Long John Silver from Treasure Island – or even at times his older self. But even that isn’t a sure-fire way – I’m still not sure what to make of Professor Giono – who seems like a former teacher, but could be wholly imagined as well.

Ruiz is often lumped in with directors like Luis Bunuel – another surrealist. But Ruiz’s film is gentler than Buñuel’s work – a little more playful. After seeing the film, I really have no idea what to make of it. It is a swansong for Ruiz – who knew it would be when he was making it. It is a tribute to cinema, a nostalgic look at childhood that also touches on some darker themes. Like I said, I don’t really know what to make of the film – but it does make me want to delve a little deeper into Ruiz’s filmography – there’s certainly plenty to choose from.

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