Raul Ruiz, the Chilean-born director of scores of films that showcased his painterly eye and literary sensibility -- including the recent 4 1/2-hour period melodrama "Mysteries of Lisbon" -- is dead at 70. He died of a pulmonary infection in Paris, where he had lived after fleeing his homeland in the early 1970s following the violent coup against Chilean President Salvador Allende led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
In his movies, Ruiz demonstrated a currently unfashionable affinity for leisurely, densely embroidered storytelling that reflected his lifelong love of literature and his interest in critical theory (he taught for a time at Harvard University). Not surprisingly, several of his best-known movies were adapted from or inspired by books, including "Mysteries of Lisbon," which was based on a novella by the Portuguese writer Camilo Castelo Branco.
Among his other films were "Tres Tristes Tigres" (1968), an adaptation of the book by Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a darkly humorous, montage-like novel set in pre-revolutionary Havana that has been compared to James Joyce's "Ulysses"; "Marcel Proust's Time Regained" (1999); "Three Lives and Only One Death" (1996), with Marcello Mastroianni, based on the short fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne; and "Klimt" (2006), with John Malkovich starring as the Austrian Symbolist painter renowned for his sensual, Byzantine-influenced paintings, typically of beautiful semi-nude women.
The themes that haunted these movies -- memory lost and retrieved, the seductions of art, the disjunctions of modern urban life -- were to resurface continually in Ruiz's films. Yet his movies seldom sagged under their high-brow aspirations, because Ruiz was foremost a committed entertainer. He loved improbable plot twists, overheated emotions, scandalous revelations -- three staples of Mexican telenovelas (soap operas), which he also directed at one point in his peripatetic career.
All these qualities came together in "Mysteries of Lisbon." In her review for the Los Angeles Times, Sheri Linden wrote: "Through every twist of the kaleidoscope, the delight in storytelling is primary.... Ruiz is as uninterested in solutions as he is in hitting Hollywood-style beats. He constructs a memory palace from an endlessly unfolding paper fortuneteller, choreographing his troupe of note-carrying go-betweens, eavesdropping servants, lovers bent on revenge and those locked in unhappiness."
In a Spanish-language Twitter message today, Chile's president, Sebastián Piñera, wrote that the country was hurt by Ruiz's death, and praised his movies for having "opened the world to us." One of Chile's current crop of young directors, Andrés Wood, told a Chilean newspaper that Ruiz's "inspiration and genius" helped move him to become a director."
"I don't know if it can be said that he is the greatest director of all Chilean filmmakers, because I believe that he goes with others like Miguel Littin," Wood told El Mercurio. "But Ruiz is among the most important, without a doubt."
Movie review: 'Mysteries of Lisbon'
Ruiz's 'Only One Death' a Complex, Delicious Fable
Photo: Raul Ruiz. Credit: Ricardo De Luca / Associated Press