The late, great Raoul Ruiz is one of the all-time cinematic voices. While his Three Lives and Only One Death isn’t his best work, it’s got Ruiz characteristics a-plenty and features a great performance from Marcello Mastroianni.
2012 movie-goers might find some similarities to the much-lauded Holy Motors from this past year but, despite the multiple identities storyline, Three Lives has different aspirations than Carax’s film. Ruiz’s film is less an existential rumination, and more a fun experiment on the interconnectedness of cinematic lives.
Ruiz loves to use a hidden split-screen to force deep focus. I can’t remember which of his films I first saw this technique in, maybe That Day, but here he uses it multiple times:
You can see the frame divider right in the middle. That last one is probably the best example. It’s fake deep focus, or maybe something like deep focus combined with a tilt-shift lens. The foreground and background are sharp, while the middle-ground is soft. It’s a weird, unsettling effect.
That middle frame there – with the mirror on the right side of the shot – is also another great Ruiz experiment. The man loved to play with time. In that instance, as you can tell by closer examination, the two Mastroianni movements don’t match up, though they are ostensibly supposed to take place in the same time. On the right he’s already got his hand on the chair, on the left, not so much.
Ruiz has several other unique touches in here. Classic Ruiz – a cutaway to something in the room in the foreground in the middle of a conversation. Look at the great, moody red-tinted lighting from Laurent Machuel:
The two protagonists are pushed to the right of frame so that Ruiz can include a mural of Eddie Constantine/Lemmy Caution to balance things out on the left side of frame:
Great marriage of production and costume design. Did she make the shirt from the wallpaper or the wallpaper from the shirt?
Here’s a look at a later conversation between Mastroianni and Tania (Anna Galiena). Where most directors would be content to establish the location and then go to standard coverage, Ruiz insists on a strange variety of shots. The camera starts (as with that aforementioned reddish shot) at a distance, with the bar taps in the foreground, and craning up:
Then there’s a series of shots that can’t exactly be called shot-reverse shot, that don’t really have any particular cinematic reason (ie we’re not shooting through the chair to mirror something that’s being said) other than creating an odd rhythm, which is quite successfully accomplished:
I feel like this is one of Ruiz’s theses in the film: to show things from a variety of unique perspectives to keep us slightly off-balance and to enhance the sense of unreality that pervades the film.