Chilean Raul Ruiz (Three Crowns of the Sailor, Time Regained) is one of the most remarkable avant-garde filmmakers working today. Having exited Chile after the Allende assassination he found a home in Paris and made a series of films that played with narrative structure and form in a manner reminiscent of Jean Luc Goddard.
1979 saw the release of Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting, a marvellous black-and-white adaptation of Pierre Klossowski’s novel about a missing 19th century painting that was inspired by Orson Welles’ F for Fake. The story was told in the form of a puzzle through the use of ‘tableau vivants’ to weave a tale in the fabulist style popular in Latin American literature. Raul’s prolific output – over 50 films in 20 years – is complemented by a unique abstract approach that means the viewer never knows quite what to expect, only that the ride will be a philosophical rollercoaster.
Anyone expecting a straight biopic of the great Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt was always in for a disappointment. Ruiz bills this movie as a phantasmagoria. He has been inspired by another great Austrian artist of the time, Arthur Schnitzler, and his play La Ronde is used as a template for the storytelling. It’s all very promising, but – alas – the result is something of a mess. John Malkovich in the title role seems as confused as anyone about exactly what Ruiz is trying to say about the artist, apart from 1) he was good at painting and 2) he shagged a load of his models.
At first there is some intrigue as the story jumps around in circles as a series of manipulations are highlighted, but all of these threads don’t actually go anywhere. Maybe it’s finally time for Ruiz to slow down and take more time in working on his canvases.