French-Chilean filmmaker Raoul Ruiz, who was nearly unknown in the U.S. but was revered on the international festival and auteur scene for his singular literary adaptations, died Thursday in Paris of complications from a pulmonary infection. He was 70.
In a career that spanned more than 100 films, some of Ruiz’s most highly regarded were “Three Crowns of a Sailor,” “Hypothesis of a Stolen Painting,” “The Top of the Whale,” “Mammane,” “Berenice” and “Time Regained.”
Ruiz’s sprawling 4 1/2-hour “Mysteries of Lisbon,” based on the 19th century novella by Portuguese author Camilo Castelo Branco, was released in New York and Los Angeles earlier this month. The critically lauded film was awarded the Louis Delluc Prize for best French film of the year in December.
Ruiz, who was fighting cancer discovered two years ago while filming “Lisbon,” was still highly dedicated to his work as a director.
The filmmaker had just completed lensing “La Noche de enfrente,” starring Christian Vadim, and he was prepping “As Linhas de Torres,” a Portugal-set war drama, which had Mathieu Amalric, Melvil Poupaud, John Malkovich and Lea Seydoux attached to star.
The helmer fled to France in the early ’70s to escape Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, after breaking through with his feature debut, “Three Sad Tigers,” which won Locarno’s Golden Leopard in 1968.
A leading figure of Chile’s Cinema of Resistance movement, the politically engaged Ruiz directed “Dialogues of the Exiled,” inspired by playwright Bertolt Brecht’s Refugee Conversations.
Ruiz later sparked international recognition with films such as Catherine Deneuve starrer “Time Regained,” based on Marcel Proust’s classic novel; “Klimt,” a biopic of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt starring Malkovich; and “Genealogies of a Crime,” which was nommed for a Golden Bear in Berlin.
He was an avid reader whose filmography is lined with literary adaptations, including versions of works by Franz Kafka (“The Penal Colony,” 1970), Nathaniel Hawthorne (“Three Lives and Only One Death,” 1996, starring Marcello Mastroianni), Pedro Calderon (“Life Is a Dream,” 1987) and Shakespeare (“Richard III,” 1986)
Born in Puerto Montt, Chile, to a middle class family, Ruiz studied law and theology at the U. of Chile before a Rockefeller Foundation grant in 1962 afforded him the opportunity to devote himself to writing.
He wrote a huge number of plays before he was 20 and worked as a writer on TV novelas.
Later, in Europe, he worked in French television. He also taught film at Harvard and served as the co-director of the Maison de Culture in Le Havre, France, where he was able to produce his own films and those of others.
“Film is often considered something inert, as something that can be manipulated: you organize it; you cut it,” Ruiz said in a recent interview with the New York Times. “We forget that the cinematographic image exists by itself. The quantity of information that the image carries — against the will of whoever is trying to organize it — is enormous.”
Ruiz dismissed conflict as an unnecessary quality in drama. He spelled out this belief in his 1995 book, “Poetics of Cinema.” “America is the only place in the world where, very early, cinema developed an all-encompassing narrative and dramatic theory known as central conflict theory,” he wrote.
Few of Ruiz’s films have been available in the U.S. He made a handful of American films, including “Shattered Image” (1998) and “The Golden Boat” (1990). “The Golden Boat” was produced by James Schamus, who remembered making the ultra low-budget film in a Filmmaker magazine essay.
“He spent a very few days with us here in New York, and left us all inspired, bewildered, and more in love than ever with the possibilities that cinema could create, if we all worked together with mutual respect for each other and with a shared commitment to just jumping in and letting the film take us places we never really planned to go.”
Ruiz was feted at Berlin with a Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution in 1997.
He is survived by his wife, filmmaker Valeria Sarmiento.
(Associated Press contributed to this report.)