Rising to international prominence in the early 1980s, Raul Ruiz proved one of the most exciting and innovative foreign filmmakers, providing more intellectual fun and artistic experimentation, shot for shot, than any filmmaker since Jean-Luc Godard. Slashing his way through celluloid with machete-sharp sounds and images, Ruiz was a guerrilla who uncompromisingly assaulted the preconceptions of film art. This frightfully prolific figure - he made over 50 films in 20 years - did not adhere to any one style of filmmaking. He worked in 35mm, 16mm and video for theatrical release and for European TV, and on documentary and fiction features.
Born June 25, 1941 in Puerto Montt, Chile, Ruiz's career began in the avant-garde theater where, from 1956 to 1962, he wrote over 100 plays. Although he never directed any of these productions, he did dabble in filmmaking in 1960 and 1964 with two short, unfinished films. With the 1968 release of his first completed feature, "Tres tristes tigres," Ruiz, along with Miguel Littin and Aldo Francia, was shot to the forefront of Chilean film. A committed leftist who supported the Marxist government of Salvador Allende, Ruiz was forced to flee his country during the fascist coup of 1973. Living in exile in Paris for the rest of his life, he found a forum for his ideas in European television. His first great European success came with "The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting" (1978), a puzzling black-and-white film adapted from a novel by Pierre Klossowski, constructed in a "tableaux vivants" style that told the enigmatic story of a missing 19th-century painting.
Influenced by the fabulist tradition that ran through much Latin American literature - which Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Alfonso Reyes all cited as influences - Ruiz was a poet of fantastic images whose films slipped effortlessly from reality to imagination and back again. A manipulator of wild, intellectual games in which the rules are forever changing, Ruiz's techniques were as varied as film itself - a collection of odd Wellesian angles and close-ups, bewildering POV shots, dazzling colors, and labyrinthine narratives which weaved and dodged the viewer's grasp with every shot.
As original as Ruiz was, one saw the diversity of his influences; in addition to adapting Klossowski, he was inspired by Franz Kafka (1971's "La Colonia Penal" was a Chilean reworking of "The Penal Colony"), Racine, Calderon, Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, Orson Welles (whose "F For Fake" was a precursor of "The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting "), and Hollywood B-movies (Roger Corman was executive producer on 1983's "The Territory"). Like Jean-Luc Godard - whom Ruiz named as an early influence and who also owed a debt to B-films - Ruiz made no differentiation between the "high art" of Racine or Calderon and the "low art" of Roger Corman. Unfortunately, only a handful of Ruiz's films were available for viewing in America, and it was on these few films that his reputation was built in the U.S. The few works that were available, however, bore witness to the genius that informed his entire body of work. The filmmaker passed away at age 70 on Aug. 19, 2011 in his beloved Paris.