Sunday, September 4, 2011

REVIEW: Mysteries of Lisbon (2011)

Mysteries of Lisbon (2011). Original title: Mistérios de Lisboa. Dir: Raoul Ruiz. Starring: Adriano Luz, Maria João Bastos, Ricardo Pereira. IMDB. In Portuguese and French with English subtitles.

Based on a 19th century novel of the same name by Camilo Castelo Branco, Mysteries of Lisbon starts with the story of a little boy, Joao, "just Joao," an orphan living at a Portuguese Catholic boys' school run by the kindly Father Dinis. Very quickly, we learn that his mother has abandoned him after having him out of wedlock, and that she is a virtual prisoner of her husband.  Soon we learn the mother's backstory in detail- her family, the pressure on her to marry, how she had to forsake love for economic security and how her son came to live at Father Dinis's school. We also learn the complicated backstory and multiple identities of Father Dinis as well as those of many other characters, until the movie becomes a sort of Portuguese La Ronde (1950), a complex web of interlocking stories of love and betrayal.

There are some things to like about Mysteries of Lisbon. The movie looks great; set amongst the nobility of Portugal, France and Italy, we are treated to set after beautiful set, party scenes with beautiful clothes and stately homes. Some of the characters' stories are very interesting, especially Father Dinis, who figures prominently in the lives of many characters, even if not all of them realize it. There are moments of comic brilliance, some of which may even be intentional, although I suspect more of them are not. When Father Dinis receives a very special gift from his father, I wanted to laugh out loud even though that may not have been the director's intention. But it was still hilarious.

However, what killed the movie for me was that it was just too darn long. The thing clocks in at over four hours; at the screening I attended, many audience members simply did not come back from the intermission and I can't say I blame them. The stories also have a certain repetitive quality to them. Frustrated, socially-inappropriate love seems to be a common theme and after a while- well, I get it. Man loves woman, there's an obstacle, etc. And there is just so much talking. Very little actually happens in the way of a plot; it's just one vignette after another of endless backstory, until finally, at long last, we circle back around to Joao and it's time to leave the theater. It was more an endurance test at times than anything else.

It's hard to know who to recommend this movie to. Die-hard art-house fans or fans of Portuguese cinema? Maybe. I don't know. Maybe a version half as long, with half as many characters, would be okay. I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did.

You can view the film's trailer here.

Music Box Films is running a Win a Trip to Portugal contest in conjunction with the film. Click here to enter.

Rating: RENT

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I received free tickets to the screening from Music Box Films in exchange for my review.


  1. Four hours is a LONG time to sit through a movie, no matter how spectacular the setting. :)

  2. I'm thinking that I can safely skip this one :)

  3. This film is having a brilliant storyline. I recommend this film but this is a kind of movie which everyone will not find interesting.
    Mysteries of Lisbon 2010