Raoul Ruiz’s pretty, savage souls

Raoul Ruiz is not just a singular director. His filmography includes about 40 full-length feature films made since 1960, most of which have drawn mixed reviews from critics while creating mixed feelings in audiences. When it comes to the public, with the exemption of three of his recent releases – «Trois Vies et Une Seule Mort» (Three Lives and Only One Death, 1996), featuring Marcello Mastroianni; «Genealogies d’Un Crime» (Geneologies of a Crime, 1997), starring Catherine Deneuve, and a rendition of Marcel Proust’s «Le Temps Retrouve» (Time Regained, 1999), Ruiz’s films usually enjoy limited box-office success. Yet the director is never dismayed by low commercial success. On the contrary, he remains faithful to the kind of cinema that goes beyond categories, that which is joyously sarcastic and inspired by mental games where the director’s broad knowledge is combined with humor – humor built on the irrational. Some critics (mainly in France) are passionate about his films – they consider them exemplary, a combination of the baroque and the surreal, and based on literary tradition. French-Chilean Ruiz was born and raised in Chile and came to Paris as a political refugee in the 1970s. Since then, his films make regular appearances at festivals. A frequent visitor at the Cannes film festival, for instance, Ruiz was also the recipient of the Berlin film festival’s Silver Bear for «Genealogies d’Un Crime» in 1997. Two years ago, he presented «Les Ames Fortes» (Savage Souls) in Cannes. The film – currently playing at the Athinaia Refresh cinema in Kolonaki – was not part of the festival’s official competition, though this year, «Ce jour la» (That Day), a film featuring strong doses of black humor along with the irrational, participated in official competition. On the Croisette at a hotel roof garden, Ruiz talked to three Greek journalists about «Les Ames Fortes,» which was based on what he defines as a rather «dull» novel by French author Jean Giono. «Giono is a boring writer, at least by reputation,» said the director. «He writes a lot about nature and its relationship to people. As a matter of fact, he believed that the Greek element was present in the land of the troubadours, in Provence. It is a kind of Greece defined by its violence, purity and poetry. I personally saw my own homeland, Chile, in this story. I encountered all sorts of people who resembled members of my family.» The film’s action takes place in the colorful French province in the 19th century: A young peasant girl, Therese (played by fashion model Laeticia Casta), is leaving her hometown with her fiance. They make their way to the big city, where they stay with an elegant and mysterious middle-class woman and her husband (Arielle Dombasle and John Malkovich). The relationship between the two women appears to be complex: While Therese is showered with affection and generosity, she is unable to accept it – her soul is wild and undisciplined. In the lead role, Casta is transformed from a fresh young woman into an 80-year-old, recalling her life in the company of a group of black-clad women, while sitting around a table. The scene points directly to ancient drama. «The film is related to ancient Greek drama, in terms of the time that eludes us, its duration,» said Ruiz. «As far as the chorus is concerned, I have to admit that I made a few arbitrary decisions both in relation to the novel and in terms of the tragedy. This is a different kind of chorus. In the movie, time passes slowly, going around in circles, while background actions are left unexplained. The characters often act in strange ways, without knowing why they do whatever it is they are doing. The viewer, on stage with the women, is never sure whether the events narrated by the women are true, or if they are mere rumors.» Casta’s presence in the film became an issue of much discussion, subsequently publicized more than any other aspect of the film. The question was raised as to how this incarnation of modern French beauty could get into her role as peasant girl? (Besides a highly successful career in modeling as one of Yves Saint-Laurent’s favorite faces, Casta became a national symbol when she lent her features to the Marianne sculptures.) The critics were immediately suspicious. Could it be the choice was for commercial reasons? «There is always room for commercial choices,» said Ruiz. «No choice is completely innocent in this profession. But I wouldn’t have chosen Laeticia if she wasn’t right for the part, if she was unpleasant. She contacted me. She read the script and wanted to be in the film. We met and she convinced me. She is beautiful, but in a very special way and that is why she fits perfectly the character described by Giono.»

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