Life Is a Dream’s French title translates to “memory of appearances,” which, better than the English, suggests all the parallels between cinema, dream, and memory. The film is ultimately a kind of zany Rabelaisian collage, guided by Ruiz’s unique sense of whimsy and playfulness.
The important thing to keep in mind is that, however murky the proceedings may get, Ruiz is basically out to have fun, and as one of the supreme visual stylists in the contemporary cinema, he can guarantee more visual surprises and bold poetic conceits than we are likely to find crowded together elsewhere. Cheerfully indifferent to the modernist notion of a masterpiece, he conflates the profound with the tacky in a liberating manner that turns both into a witty carnival of attractions.
I had to decipher the film through French dialogue and Dutch titles (the reverse would have been preferable); nevertheless, Memoire seems even more assured than Ruiz's two NYFF entries, The Three Crowns of the Sailor and City of Pirates. Who else would rack-focus from the reflection on a metal ashtray to a smoldering cigarette butt or use a musical production number featuring a gigantic fishbowl as a three-second throwaway?