Dark At Noon (L’Oeil Qui Ment)
Director/Screenplay – Raul Ruiz, Producer – Leonardo de la Fuenta, Photography – Ramon Suarez, Music – Jorge Arriagada, Special Effects Supervisor – Alain Le Roy, Production Design – Luis Monteiro. Production Company – Sideral/Animatografo/Le Studio Canal
John Hurt (Anthony/The Marquis), Didier Bourdon (Felicien Pascal), Lorraine Evanoff (Inez), David Warner (Ellic), Daniel Prevost (Priest), Filippe Dias (The Boy)
In 1918, Felicien Pascal, a French doctor who is a scientific adviser on miracles to the Catholic Church, travels to a small village in Portugal where miracles and appearances of the Virgin Mary have become so commonplace that they are regarded as a nuisance. There Pascal befriends Anthony, a manufacturer of artificial limbs for war veterans, as well as Ellis, an artist with a penchant for burying people alive who is identical to one of Pascal’s psychiatric patients. As he tries to make sense of the miracles, Felicien discovers how Anthony and his wife Ines have both managed to incarnate inside the body of the local Marquis.
Dark at Noon was one of the better known films from Raul Ruiz, a Chilean director based in France who inexplicably gained a good deal of critical acclaim from the festival/awards crowds during the 1990s and up until his death in 2011.
The pre-release publicity for Dark at Noon – describing it as being set in a town where miracles are so commonplace that they have become an annoyance – makes it sound a far more interesting film than it is. There is the odd amusing image – of a surprisingly playful Virgin Mary who mirrors people’s gestures and pelts the priest back with the stones he throws to drive her away – but it is only part of a muddled and incomprehensible whole. Certainly, there is an idea there that would maybe make for a good film by somebody like Terry Gilliam some day but Dark at Noon is not that film.
It is however the sort of rambling incomprehensibility that might be expected from Chilean-born director Raul Ruiz. Ruiz seems like a surrealist in search of something to say. The film is filled with various surreal images – fields filled with crutches; villagers stumbling zombie-like around the town; giant marble hands that come crashing through roofs; growths of fuzz that sprout out of paintings on the wall; David Warner who has an inexplicable habit of drugging people and then burying them alive – which are occasionally to do with the story but are mostly totally disconnected. Ruiz has no idea of plot – when he finally does get the film together to say something, what he does start talking about – people becoming ghosts incarnated in John Hurt’s body, Hurt trying to find an androgyne to incarnate in – is so incomprehensible it makes no sense at all. How Ruiz managed to attract top-drawer actors like John Hurt and David Warner to star in such a mangled script is a miracle in itself.
Ruiz lacks much idea of direction either, twisting his camera at 90 degree angles and throwing in double exposures for no apparent purpose. Even at a commercially acceptable 102 minutes, the film’s pace drags. At least, Dark at Noon is more together than the last Raul Ruiz film I saw, City of Pirates (1983), and is not without its occasional moments of humour.
Raul Ruiz’s other ventures into surrealism and fabulism include:- Life is a Dream (1985), episodes of the modernised tv series A TV Dante (1989-91), The Secret Journey (1994), Three Lives and Only One Death (1996), the English-language Shattered Image (1998), Comedy of Innocence (2000), Love Torn in Dream (2000), A Place Among the Living (2003), That Day (2003), Days in the Country (2004), The Long Domain (2005), Love and Virtue (2008) and Nucingen House (2008). Though he was prolific, the majority of Ruiz’s films did not receive widespread releases, least of all in English-speaking countries.