Raoul Ruiz’s latest cinematic conceit imagines a film festival as a gathering of the living dead sitting in judgment on one another. Indeed, with its muddy DV image, self-imposed limitations (each member of the large cast granted exactly equal screen-time) and endless self-reflection, a film festival would seem the only logical venue for this hall-of-mirrors exercise. Unlike the prolific helmer’s more accessible and more aesthetically sumptuous celluloid oeuvre, “Vertige” will appeal most to Ruiz completists and aficionados of abstraction for abstraction’s sake.
A festival jury debates the merits of a film-within-the-film entitled “Justice.” “Justice,” it seems, concerns a jury debating the fate of three people who imprisoned and interrogated a judge: The judge, earlier on, had imprisoned and interrogated them.
Perversely inspired by the idea of doing a “reality show,” Ruiz invests his various improbable groupings of characters with increasingly oddball versions of realism. Thus at the innermost center of these spiraling fictions, the story of the judge’s abduction is treated as a theatrically distanced political treatise, with straightforward flashbacks and scripted confrontations.
On the next layer up, jury members deliberating the case of the judge and his abductors assert their “social realism” by a recitation of their own names, ages and guilty pleasures.
Finally, on the outermost level, the festival jury glitters with pyscho-intellectual artificiality, its panelists constantly sniping at each other but bound by a tradition of quasi-incestuous in-breeding. They tend to see everything as a version of something else, comparing the juries of “Justice” and “12 Angry Men” and hotly contesting charges of plagiarism.
To further complicate the issue, actors in the cast of “Justice” hover on the fringes of the deliberating film jury, trying to figure out if they’re up for any prizes.
But all this becomes irrelevant in pic’s final act, when the meaning of the smoking suitcases falling out the sky points to the ultimate reality, death, which cancels out all others and regroups the actors as stewardesses and passengers en route to the Great Beyond.
Tech credits are bare-bone.