Film Scouts Reviews

"Trois vies et une seule mort"

by David Sterritt

May 19, 1996

Directed by Raoul Ruiz. Written by Raoul Ruiz and Pascal Bonitzer. With Marcello Mastraoianni, Anna Galiena, Marisa Paredes, Melvil Poupaud, Chiara Mastroianni, Arielle Dombasle, Feodor Atkine, Jean-Yves Gautier.

The latest picture by Chilean master Raoul Ruiz stars perennial superstar Marcello Mastroianni as a handsome gentleman who apparently harbors various personalities--a former professor, a cheerful beggar, and an eccentric butler among them--within his gracefully aging body. But the point of the picture isn't to remake "The Three Faces of Eve" or ring clever changes on a genre Hollywood has exploited all too eagerly over the decades. Rather, it's to allow one of current cinema's most inventive, energetic, and generally underrecognized wizards to play ingenious games with a situation and story tailor-made for his mercurial approach to narrative, montage, and mise-en-scene.

Not many years ago, Ruiz used to pour out several projects per annum, from shorts and documentaries to features as multifaceted as they were numerous. Nowadays he plays the production game a little more conventionally, lavishing more time on individual films and giving them the properly polished look that makes regular moviegoers (and financing sources) feel more or less at home. His wit is as sharp and mischievous as ever, though, and in "Three Lives and Only One Death" he captures the surrealistic spirit of Luis Bunuel's late pictures (most notably "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" and "The Phantom of Liberty," with their intersecting tales and evanescent moods) while pursuing a fascination with cinematic ambiguity that's every bit his own. Three cheers.

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