A magisterial meditation on narrative and cinema, Mysteries of Lisbon is the most glorious achievement of Raúl Ruiz’s prodigious career and one of the first cinematic masterpieces of this century. Based on the multivolume work (untranslated into English) by 19th-century Portuguese novelist Camilo Castelo Branco, the four-and-a-half-hour film whets the appetite for its original six-hour incarnation for Portuguese television. Less starstruck and more satisfying than Time Regained (99), Ruiz’s take on Proust, Mysteries immerses us in the unbounded pleasures of plot, character, action, and intrigue, replete with a lyrical score and grounded in a myriad of vibrant performances.

But the film is also imbued with an ironic spirit and authorial consciousness typical of Ruiz. The camera moves incessantly, passing through walls, assuming the pose of an eavesdropper, or impishly blocking our view of an action it deems trivial—strategies familiar in the director’s oeuvre but never more resonant or stirring. Both romantic and modernist, Mysteries is driven by what Ruiz calls (in his 2007 study Poetics of Cinema 2) the complementary strategies of detachment and involvement. In the hands of a master at the top of his game, we are instructed in the arts of narrative and cinematic invention even as we succumb to their seductions.

Complete article available online in Film Comment.

Mysteries of Lisbon is currently playing at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. Two shows daily. Advance tickets are available online.