Billed as an homage to late, much-loved Rotterdam Film Festival co-founder Hubert Bals, “Responso” is a collection of stories and sketches on mortality, assembled over some 15 years by Chilean expat helmer Raul Ruiz. Now in something resembling a final form, pic’s piecemeal production process is only occasionally evident and detracts little from a film that engages its audience’s imagination in inspired and highly original ways. Clearly a personal project not intended for commercial consumption, pic is nonetheless a highly enjoyable exercise that should elicit the response of fests partial to Ruiz’s work.
“Responso” is a eulogy more playful than mournful. Framed by scenes in which veteran Ruiz thesp Jean Badin portrays a Bals-like character, pic unfolds mostly as a series of fable-like monologues. A man reads aloud an Islamic prayer. A Spanish folk song is sung. A taxicab driver reminisces about the lion he once had for a pet. And a tale is told of a son’s emotional reunion with his estranged father — a meeting later discovered to have taken place after the father was pronounced dead in another city.
Throughout, Bals/Badin drifts through the action, slipping in and out of consciousness as Ruiz flips through different filmmaking styles with the restlessness of a television junkie switching channels. Some scenes play as near-documentary, while others possess a balletic expressiveness reminiscent of Ruiz’s 1986 dance film “Mammame.”
Finally, it becomes clear that what we are being treated to is one man’s last reverie before dying. So, despite its radically telescoped scale, “Responso” shares some thematic common ground with Ruiz’s lavish and admired adaptation of Proust’s “Time Regained.” Only here, Ruiz treats death’s inevitability with far more ambivalence, certain dying is but a form of re-birth, and thereby transforming the occasion into a celebration.
Technically, pic is a patchwork quilt of differing film and video stocks, assembled by Ruiz (serving as his own editor) with such lucidity that one hardly registers the mismatches.