Why you should care
Raúl Ruiz’s final film illustrates what can happen when the thin line between imagination and reality is blurred.
The late Chilean director Raúl Ruiz’s final completed film was made in a spirit of “do not open until after my death,” but that’s less about affecting an air of solemnity than about putting on a good show. With more than a hundred movies to his credit, Ruiz got away with playing by his own rules because he’d gotten so good at playing. Now available on DVD or — as befits its dreamy flow — streaming, Night Across the Street (2012) is a blithely inventive, utterly Ruizian farewell.
Anticipating retirement from his job and from being alive, an elderly office clerk (Sergio Hernández) imaginatively reflects on his life. What follows are several free-associative episodes, which may be classified as flashbacks or delusions, depending on your need to classify them, and exemplify the ancient wisdom that memory is the mother of imagination. Supporting players include the clerk’s younger self, the pirate Long John Silver, the novelist Jean Giono and Beethoven.
Ruiz got away with playing by his own rules because he’d gotten so good at playing.
Very loosely based on stories by Chilean author Hernán del Solar, the film showcases fine work from many fine actors, but its most essential and engrossing performance is the one put forth by its director, a born fabulist. Ruiz builds worlds within worlds, connecting them with surprisingly organic-seeming digital effects. Night Across the Street is innately surreal, dense with cultural references and aesthetic delights. That it’s more inviting than impenetrable bespeaks the grace of Ruiz’s cosmopolitan style: This somehow buoyantly elegiac work is among the highest examples of pure movie magic.
Like dozens of other Chilean filmmakers, Ruiz self-exiled to France at the outset of the Pinochet regime. Ever alert to tyranny, which can extend to office bureaucracy, the conventions of movie storytelling and, for that matter, spending an entire lifetime inside a body, he would decades later exile himself again, this time to the undiscovered country, in this grand and lasting flourish of creative liberation.