Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Epic Film Deserves the Time it Takes

Only in the 21st century would it seem perfectly plausible to recommend that a friend binge watch 10 to 12 hours of the hottest new TV show and yet utterly ridiculous to recommend that anyone go spend more than 3 hours in a movie theater to watch a single film.

Granted, there are a lot of factors at play here — the cost of a movie ticket versus the monthly price of a Netflix subscription, the ability to pause and grab a snack, etc. — but strip away all the fussy externalities and you will find the core of the issue to be a matter of length: No one (in general) wants a movie to be anything more than two to two and a half hours long tops.

Consider now the paradox that is “Mysteries of Lisbon.” This four and a half hour-long period epic from the late Portuguese director Raúl Ruiz was initially conceived as a television miniseries but debuted at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival in a version tailor-made for the big screen, a format the film has retained in its post-festival afterlife.

Getting through the film in the middle of the semester would be no more difficult than watching the newest season of “Downton Abbey” in the same timeframe; the story is episodic in nature and has an intermission between halves. Nor is “Mysteries of Lisbon” even the longest film ever made by any stretch of the imagination. Béla Tarr’s “Sátántangό,” for one, towers over it at a monstrous seven hours and 12 minutes. Nevertheless, streaming Ruiz’s epic on the portable device of your choice will deny you the full experience of viewing the film as it was meant to be seen.

At first glance, “Mysteries of Lisbon” may seem like nothing more than a glorified, foreign-language soap opera. Starting with the story of João, a Portuguese orphan in the early 19th century, the film weaves together a magnificent tapestry of contemporaneous events across Europe as told by saints and sinners of every social standing and filtered through the receptive ears of Father Dinis, headmaster of João’s orphanage and designated keeper of everyone’s secrets. There’s plenty of romancing — licit and adulterous — swashbuckling and plot-twisting to go around for audiences of all persuasions, yet at the end of the day the story offers nothing radically new to the “private lives of aristocratic Europeans and Their Servants” genre.

What justifies four and a half hours of a story that essentially amounts to little more than period-piece comfort food is the remarkable craftsmanship. In a movie as largely dialogue-driven as this one, the standard shot-counter shot style of filming and editing would have sufficed for most filmmakers; not so for Ruiz.

Whether he is filming an intense conversation in a shadowy drawing room, a soiree at a stately country manor or an impromptu duel on the side of the road, Ruiz never lets his camera sit still. Although its effects are nearly imperceptible at first, the dynamic camerawork implicates the viewer in the sumptuous world of 19th-century Europe and invites us to observe every inch of every frame. Ruiz renders it all in a full-bodied color palette befitting the time and place of the story; no other film that I can think of endows the color green with as much warmth as this film does.

One can certainly appreciate all that “Mysteries of Lisbon” has to offer from a computer screen, but to deprive yourself of a theater screen and four and a half hours’ worth of undivided attention would be to deprive the film of the full potential of its beauty and intricacy.

Today, the most any of us could hope for is a rainy Saturday evening on which to watch Ruiz’s film uninterrupted at home (don’t plan on “Mysteries of Lisbon” showing up at Landmark’s E Street Cinema for a special screening anytime soon), but perhaps someday the opportunity will present itself to watch the film as its director intended — that is to say, by easing back into the cushioned embrace of a theater chair and allowing the mysteries of Ruiz’s Lisbon to hold us captive for an entire afternoon.

Tim Markatos is a senior in the College. The Cinema Files appears every other Friday.

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