For all the apparent differences between their source novels, Oliveira’s Amor de Perdicao and the theatrical version of Os Mistérios de Lisboa both run for about 260 minutes (the TV miniseries version of Mistérios is about 100 minutes longer). But the former might be described as a modernist and exhaustive representation of a novel. Ruiz’s masterpiece is a masterful and selective retelling of one, bridging the popular and arcane strands in his oeuvre with fluidity and assurance.
A summation of Ruiz’s work, with its nested stories, unstable identities and swirling camera movements, and one that is endlessly pleasurable. Adapted from the 19th Century novel by Camilo Castelo Branco, it tells the circuitous story of an orphan and his parentage, one which spans lifetimes and consumes hundreds of identities. It is a a ballet where every step both reveals and conceals, Ruiz’s camera unveiling truth at one edge and a lie at the other.
Beyond shifting voices and surprise appearances by characters thought to be elsewhere, sudden changes of camera angles and movements from outside a given situation suggest alternative or complementary perspectives that frustrate passive identification with a particular character and hint at the filmmaker’s own ambivalent embrace of the fabricated world he’s constructed.