By Cynthia Gomez, UCLA Latin American Institute
Why did you decide to write a book on Raúl Ruiz?
Ruiz is probably the most renowned Chilean director in the world, only competing with documentary filmmaker Patricio Guzmán. Ruiz won awards at the Locarno and San Sebastián Festivals, the Berlinale, he was granted the Prix Louis Delluc, and the prestigious Cahiers du Cinéma dedicated special editions to his films on various occasions. In his home country, he has been the only filmmaker bestowed with the Premio Nacional, a life long pension for outstanding achievements in the realm of culture. Paradoxically, his work is very little known and is considered hermetic or elitist. The relatively abundant critical literature tends to concentrate on Ruiz’ philosophical, learned and highly sophisticated considerations on cinema, made frequently tongue in cheek. We noticed a blatant lack of information about the foundations of his aesthetic thinking, and basic facts about his biography and the chronology of his early works turned out to be incomplete or even mystified (not without some help by Ruiz himself).
How did the collaboration between you and Manfred Engelbert come about?
I first met Manfred when he came to UCLA to participate in a conference organized by my colleague Efraín Kristal on the internationalization of national literatures in March 2000. We discovered our common interest in contemporary Chilean culture – Manfred had published a book on Violeta Parra – and during a visit of mine to Göttingen financed by the DAAD, we conceived of a study on the different forms of representing reality in Chilean film since the 1960’s. We came to agree that the work of Raúl, with its constant walking of a thin line between real reality and imagined reality offered an excellent opportunity for a case study. Furthermore, my own book project on the New Chilean Cinema from the end of the 1960s brought me to a close cinematographic reading of Tres tristes tigres (1968), one of the emblematic tokens of this cinema, along with films like Morir un poco (Álvaro Covacevich, 1967), Ayúdeme Ud. compadre (Germán Becker,1968), Caliche sangriento (Helvio Soto, 1969) and El chacal de Nahueltoro (Miguel Littin, 1970), among others. As the chapter on Tres tristes tigres threatened to boost all limits, we decided a joint venture to explore not only the structure of Tres tristes tigres, but also the artistic biography of young Mr. Ruiz on his way from vanguard theatre to an experimental cinema that seeks to combine German expressionism and social realism inspired by Italian neo-realism and the cinematographic school of Fernando Birri at Santa Fe.
After Salvador Allende was overthrown in 1973, Ruiz sought asylum in France where he remained until his death. How do you think this experience affected him as a filmmaker?
The perception of Raúl Ruiz as the incorporation of exile in film is, in fact, one of the legends we try to do away with. Our focus on the foundations of his work in Chile allowed us to discover the links between his plays, his first film La maleta (1963/2008) and Tres tristes tigres as well as Mistérios de Lisboa (2010), the two films alluded to in the title of our book. There is no break between the Chilean and the French (the universal exile) Ruiz. The grappling with an unstable I, the search for an established identity, is the underlying preoccupation of all his films. The French exile may have strengthened the idea of a continuous universe without distinction of physics and metaphysics (his “metaphysical materialism”), which allows him to mix reality and dream, sanity and insanity, life and death, past and present. At the same time, the critical view on contemporary society – not just Chilean society – might have become less sharp and satirical. But there is no fundamental difference between the dead lives in Tres tristes tigres and the living dead in Les Trois Couronnes du matelot (1982).
Raúl Ruiz died last year at the age of 70. What kind of legacy do you think his body of work has left behind?
The films of Raúl Ruiz are a school of looking at the world with renewed eyes – the eyes of the curious child so often presented in his images. In some way, the universe is “Treasure Island”, and you only have to abandon the inherited, automatically present schemes of perception to discover it. In this way, Raúl’s fairy tales are a cinema against death.