La Telenovela Errante (The Wandering Soap Opera)
This layered, imaginative, surrealist work has an opening scene so well judged, intelligently paced and ultimately funny that the rest could barely live up to such a standard. (It features a lounge, two lovers, a returning husband and a poisoned lemon.) This fact doesn’t stop Raúl Ruiz’s unfinished 1990 film – here finally pieced together and completed by Valeria Sarmiento – from being an entertaining, beguiling and disorientating experience. It joyfully plays with the acknowledged tropes and unexplored implications of soap operas, cleverly shifting spaces and timelines with promiscuous liberty and a comic lack of sentiment.
Ruiz intends to analyse the Chilean condition, to merge reality with daytime fiction. He sees no distinction between them. Latin American soaps always have always seemed to possess a hyperreal quality, a sense of melodrama and absurdity that almost acts as a pastiche. Here, across eight episodes, the same actors reappear in different guises, screaming at each other through television sets. The sense of perspective is perpetually skewed. We have two men assassinated in a car; the assassins are then assassinated, and then these two are assassinated, ad infinitum. Elsewhere, a bearded man twists a taller man – desperately in a rush – one way and then the other. It’s a simple scene that’s startlingly amusing and effective. One man has a wire that extends endlessly from his tie-collar. Naturally, a range of cutlery hurtles down the line.
This isn’t all supposed to incite laughter. The strangeness of these events, the characters’ behaviour and their relationship to reality all function as a broader comment on the political, social and economic problems in Chilean life. It’s perhaps easy to overstate the picture’s efficacy in this regard, but Ruiz is offering a genuinely subversive piece of work. By confronting us with constant exaggerated delirium, we glimpse a challenge to our perception, a sinister element of truth, a reflection of the excesses found within human behaviour. The episodes that comprise the film are bookended by Ruiz on set. In the final shot he declares a wrap. This is a fine testament to his cinematic career.
La Telenovela Errante (The Wandering Soap Opera) does not have a UK release date yet.