Raúl Ruiz’s baroque mix of revolutionary politics, pop culture and semiotics is loosely based on the play La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream) by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. In this 17th-century classic, a young prince learns that life is but a dream from which we wake when we die, and that dreams may be as real as life.
Ruiz’s Prince is a Chilean revolutionary in hiding who spends his time in a run-down movie theatre watching old Flash Gordon serials while trying to remember a secret code he once memorized using Life is a Dream as a mnemonic device.
Introduction: Isolde Vanhee
Like many of his other films, Ruiz’s Mémoire des Apparences begins with a fixed set of premises – in this case, the Chilean resistance, Calderon’s play, and a fruit salad of trashy movie genres (vestiges of science fiction, western shoot-outs, the swashbuckler or bourgeois melodrama) glimpsed in a provincial cinema – and winds up somewhere left of the stratosphere, indulging in a kind of free-fall of the imagination that puts these initial premises through kaleidoscopic transformations.
The important thing to keep in mind is that… Ruiz is basically out to have fun, and as one of the supreme visual stylists of contemporary cinema, he can guarantee more visual surprises and bold poetic conceits than we are likely to find crowded together anywhere else. 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.
Ruiz’s films are hardly puzzles to be solved or strenuous exercises to be mastered, but esoteric pleasure machines that provoke laughter and reveries in relation to Ruiz’s campy sense of irony and metaphysical flights of fancy.” (Jonathan Rosenbaum)
“Watching Mémoire des apparences, one is repeatedly assailed by the suspicion that, on a formal level, Raúl Ruiz is currently the most inventive filmmaker working anywhere. This dude with the B-movie monicker, Raúl Ruiz is the Godard of the 80s, Mister early-Borges plus middle-period-Welles, a Barthesian Buñuel, the Edgar G. Ulmer of the European art film, a Third World H. Rider Haggard, the Garcia Marquez of French TV, and so forth.” (J. Hoberman, Village Voice)
Mémoire des apparences has only been made available on a bad VHS many decades ago and is impossible to watch in decent quality today. A rare 16mm copy of the film will be live subtitled in English.