Entertainment

Night Across the Street

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jul 30, 2013
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Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz was a fascinating writer and director; anyone willing and able to tackle a film version of Proust’s work would pretty much have to be. Ruiz’s movies reflect his willingness to set aside traditional structures and conventions and delve into the strange, complex, and confounding. His final film, "Night Across the Street," follows those same working methods, while also serving as a sort of celebration of Ruiz’s own filmography.

The story is simple: An old man, Celso (Sergio Hernández), faces retirement. Other than work, he has nothing to occupy himself except early morning literature classes, the intrigues of the inhabitants at his boarding house, and his own memories.

All this keeps him rather busy, actually: His life is an inseparable tangle of past and present, fact and fiction, all of it unspooling in highly dramatic fashion. Celso bounces from epoch to epoch in his own life, from his boyhood (where he’s played by Santiago Figueroa) to his dotage, where he awaits an assassin named Rhododendron with anticipation and terror. But is there really a plot afoot to do away with him and steal his money? Or are Celso’s encounters with would-be killers and conspirators nothing more than hallucinations? Or is this all the result of his own overactive imagination, which supplies him with material for the radio plays he narrates and the adventures he shared in his youth with imagined versions of Beethoven and Long John Silver?

The film is a literary free-fall, as thrilling to look at as to piece together; cinematographer Inti Briones casts many scenes in a ruddy bronze light that underscores a sense of dreamlike unreality.

This DVD release offers two special features of note. One is a "video essay" by filmmaker and critic Kevin B. Lee titled "Lasting Elements on the Last horizon." Though narrated in a flat, uninflected tone, this essay will unpack the film’s many mysteries, and serves as a map to understanding its imaginative terrain.

There’s also a short film, "Ballet Aquatique," also directed by Ruiz.

For the completist, this is the valediction from a great stylist and cinematic daredevil; for the novice, this is a bracing entree into Ruiz’s body of work. For anyone willing to go someplace new and strange, this is essential viewing, if only once. You think David Lynch’s stuff is out there? Lynch could be the jumping-off point for this guy. Check it out.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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