Dir: Raul Ruiz | Drama, Chile
After winning the Golden Leopard for his debut Three Sad Tigers (1968) A Wandering Soap Opera was – to all intents and purposes – his final film, completed by his partner Valeria Sarmiento, competing at Locarno 2017 but going home empty-handed.
Sarmiento did a great job with The Lines of Wellington, just after Ruiz died, but this is rather an alienating affair, unless you’re familiar with Chilean vintage soap operas, and even then this is an acquired taste, although clearly very popular with those in the know, who clapped for it uproariously during the Locarno Press screening. To be fair to late master, this ‘exotic’ quality of the film is probably intended. Ruiz was trying to make sense of returning to his country years after his ‘exote’ in France. His return to Chile left him bemused and somewhat disorientated, and this feeling come through as he tries to make sense of a country that had seen so many transformations in his absence.
A Wandering Soap Opera (Una telenovela errante) was shot in Ruiz’s native Chile during six days in 1990, but never edited or scored. The 16mm film explores Chile’s comedy backdrop during the Pinochet years (1973-1989) when Ruiz had been exiled to Europe returning after the president had fallen from grace. Nevertheless, some of the humour is arcane, and the rambling style and attempt to recreate the past certainly bears that out.
Taking the form of seven chapters or ‘days’, each relevant to a day of shooting, Telenovela.attempts to show that life in the country resembles one big soap opera. Some of the humour is translatable in expressing the zeitgeist of the era: “If you behave badly in this life, you’ll become a Chilean in the next”. And the first skit is by far the funniest, but rather goes downhill comedy-wise afterwards.
For those expecting something along the lines of Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality will be disappointed although the title does sound like it might be rather fun. This is obviously a film with a strong political undercurrent that also satirises male/female relations naturally erring on the misogynist take you might expect from a South American country of the era, with florid language and melodrama serving the political narrative extremely well. MT
RAUL RUIZ RETROSPECTIVE | VIENNALE 2023