Star rating – 5/10
Even though I’m a bit of a sucker for art house sub-titled films, and a lover of costume drama to boot, I like to think that I am a tad more discerning than to be fooled by this Portuguese marathon of a film.
The 70 year old director of ‘The Mysteries of Lisbon’, Raúl Ruiz, who died last year, could have done with a bit of savage editing to make this four and a half hour (yes that’s right – a whole 270 minutes) epic anything like watchable. Every character in the dazzling array of inter connected story lines seems to have a hidden past, a secret to conceal, and a variety of names to choose from. Mystery really seems to be the operative word here.
It is an adaptation of a novel by Camilo Castelo Branco which has never been available in English translation. A young boy João, living in a Lisbon boarding school in the eighteenth century, laments his lack of a surname, and longs to find out something about his family history. He turns to Father Dinis, who reluctantly reveals that his mother, whom he is fleetingly reunited with before she retreats forever into the seclusion of a nunnery, was the victim of a cruel aristocratic husband, who caused her downfall and humiliation. But the priest has his own hidden story to reveal.
The plot is confusing, almost baffling, at times, and relies on narrators who turn out to be totally unreliable. The different strands weave together after a fashion, but it doesn’t stay with any of the characters ling enough to elicite real empathy with any of them. It is highly melodramatic, and reminded me more of the Thornbirds than quality drama.
So the moral is – just because a film is ridiculously long, and plays at an art house cinema near you – it doesn’t mean you should waste a whole four and a half hours of your precious time on it, even when it comes out on DVD and you can suffer it in smaller doses.