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"More than just making a period piece—an enterprise that always assumes that the past should be somehow adulterated or translated in order to fit it into the idioms of the present—Ruiz proves with Mysteries of Lisbon that an old Portuguese feuilleton, a present-day telenovela, and an American mini-series can share not only the same kind of narrative form, but the same kind of audience (except that the Ruiz, of course, is so much better). Not the least bit outdated, Mysteries is four-and-a-half hours of pure pleasure, made up of elegant long takes, fake walls, hidden identities and full-blooded cloak-and-dagger melodrama. Ruiz makes it clear like never before that storytelling need not be confined to 99-minute sprints to keep the pulse racing."
Quintín quotes Adrian Martin: "Ruiz is not interested in telling one story, a unique and particular story in each of his films. Above all, he doesn't reach the coherence of imaginary plenitude of a story. Narration is only an excuse for him, but an excuse for what? As he states, he is interested first of all in the passage between different worlds (real or imaginary) or between different narrative levels. He wants to understand, explore and rework these 'bridges,' these suspension points, those difficult moments of connection and disconnection." [Emphasis in the original.]
As example of such a bridge between fiction and reality ("more specifically between writers, characters, and the material of literature in general"), Quintín refers to the scene towards the end of the film where two duelists settle their affair of honor. "A figure appears in the background: a man seen at a distance, walking along the perimeter of the action. When the duel concludes and the participants withdraw, the man enters the space previously occupied by the contenders and proceeds to shoot himself. Could this be Castelo Branco (who killed himself in real life), watching his characters? After all, in Ruiz's adaptation of Le temps retrouvé (1999) Proust is a character in his own right, living alongside his creations...."
"Ruiz seems to believe that film is the medium where literature comes alive and resists the effects of time. It is not that cinema is a way of preserving the memory of the living after their deaths, as people used to think a hundred years ago, but rather the memory of those who never existed—which is a much stronger statement about what we call reality."