• Oct 5, 2012 from 8:30am to 10:00am
  • Location: Howard Gilman Theater
  • Latest Activity: Aug 21, 2019

Raúl Ruiz

The Blind Owl (La Chouette aveugle)
1987 | France | 90m | 16mm | color | sound | Powerpoint subtitles

H., 35, an Arabian immigrant, works as projectionist in an old cinema. One day, drawn by the music, he looks through the window of the booth and is fascinated: the dancer he sees on the screen seems to be looking straight into his eyes. He falls in love with her, but the vision last only a moment. Shortly afterwards, an elderly man storms into the projection booth and claims he is his uncle.
 H. wants to prepare a meal for him and reaches for the oil bottle: he sees the same dancer on the label…. H begins to find echoes of his own life in the images he projects. Everything changes when fiction and reality merge... For Ruiz, The Blind Owlwas not so much an adaptation as an adoption of the novels written by Sadegh Hedayat and Tirso de Molina. Free composition in a labyrinthine narrative, this explosion of imagination and creation celebrates the fantastical power of cinema in a fictional continuity, mixing past and present, dream and reality. An existential work as well as gigantic hoax, this flamboyant, baroque jewel is as enchanting as it is extravagant.

In all respects an imaginative film by Ruiz. His adaptation of an Iranian novel and a Spanish play is a mixture of dream and reality, past and present. Unusual in its colour effects and the subtitling: often of what is not said…. The Blind Owl is an extremely dense film. I would describe it as cosmic: an adaptation by a Chilean director of an Iranian novel and a Spanish play—and at the same time a regional film, since it was produced by the Maison de la culture in Havre and shot there. It has a continual mixture of dream and reality, past and present. It greatly resembles the self-reflexive mode of Latin American literature. I regard it as Ruiz's masterwork. Ceaselessly, one image contradicts the next. It is a special film in its crucial work on subtitling: often it isn't the dialogue which is subtitled, but rather what is not said. It's also an essential work on color; the film is entirely built on color. The first time I saw this movie, it was a PAL videocassette viewed on a SECAM player; instantly the film turned black and white—and hence absolutely invisible. There is a series of color effects within a field of whiteness, each of which expresses something particular. It is a very 'Sternbergian' piece, a total construction of the image: shadows and lighting, for instance, alter in the course of a shot. The film explodes with imagination and creativity.—Luc Moullet

In my 1990 Ruiz essay, I claimed that The Blind Owl pointed to a “temporary exhaustion” on Ruiz’s part and developed certain ideas in Life Is a Dream, “including the use of a similar provincial movie theater.” Recently reseeing this mind-boggler after reading Luc Moullet’s passionate defense of it in Trafic no. 18 (Spring 1996), I now realize the exhaustion was strictly my own; apart from having something to do with dreams and movies, it has scant relation toLife Is a Dream; and the theater in the film—an Arab cinema—is neither similar nor provincial. Such are the dangers of seeing most Ruiz works unsubtitled and many years apart.

Series: NYFF50: Views from the Avant-Garde

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