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City of Pirates

Posted by martinteller on October 10, 2012

A young woman named Isidore (Anne Alvaro) lives with her mother (Clarisse Dole) and father (João Bénard da Costa) at a seaside home.  She laments the loss of a lover, they all lament the loss of her brother.  They feel the urge to flee, and head for another house.  They have a séance and the spirit of the boy inhabits a ball.  Isidore walks into the sea, and the father believes — to his apparent pleasure — that she is killing herself.  She meets a man in the water — possibly her old lover?  She returns to the house, a 10-year-old boy (Melvil Poupaud) mysteriously appears.  It is implied via a report in the newspaper that he has murdered his family, with signs of sexual abuse.  He gives Isidore a ring, they are engaged.  The man from the sea kills himself.  Isidore and the boy go to the “Isle of Pirates”, where she is held captive by Toby (Hugues Quester), a man with a full family of multiple personalities within him.

That’s roughly the first two-thirds of this film, as best I can describe it.  In all the Ruiz I have seen there is some element of the bizarre, but this is full-blown surrealism.  You might call it horror… murder, suicide, fear, anxiety, captivity frequently linger over the film.  But the vibe is more dream than nightmare.  Dialogue is highly stylized and poetic, events occur with no sense of rationality, scenes are disconnected.  Symbols abound, but are as indecipherable as the narrative.

It is a frustratingly elusive film.  I wish very much that I had enjoyed it more.  The visuals are astonishing, with beautiful use of color and elaborate framing, just wonderful tableaus that delight the eyes.  But everything else about it lost me.  Even when I’d given up on attempting to make sense of it, I struggled just to pick up on a particular theme or mood other than vague unsettlement.  There seemed to be fleeting references to the Spanish Civil War (most of the film is in French, but there are brief passages in Spanish) but it’s all so obfuscated I hesitate to commit to that.

For someone willing to expend the brain cells needed to decode the film, this may very well be a rewarding experience.  Perhaps if I had been in a particular mood, a yearning for something exceptionally ambiguous and purely mood-oriented, I might have gotten a lot out of it.  Tonight, however, I was intrigued but ended up mostly just confused.  Gorgeous looking movie, though.  Rating: Poor (58)


One Response to “City of Pirates”

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