The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (Raoul Ruiz / France, 1979):
(L'Hypothèse du Tableau Volé)

A multitude of works -- deconstruction, spoof, reverie, showman's trick -- drawn at once by Raoul Ruiz over a trip to the museum. The format could be a French TV special on art and representation, the old Collector (Jean Rougeul) wandering through a murky gallery to declare that the sextet of paintings on display, stylistically jejune and thematically shaky, occasioned such a shitstorm upon exhibition that the painter fled the country. "It's not the composition, but the lighting ... The paintings do not show, they allude." The voiceover narration isn't convinced, so the Collector reveals his hypothesis, and Ruiz's central joke: The absence of a supposed seventh painting, supposedly stolen, supposedly the key into the scandal and the artist's intent. The Collector ambles to the window and through binoculars surveys the first of the tableaux vivant designed to extract meaning from the boards by recreating them in three dimensions -- a crypto-mythological scene boasts a Diana the Huntress figure with a mirror, the camera tracks to trace the light reflecting off it and dissolves to a medieval knight contemplating a chess board, the next painting. When the Collector nods off mid-pontification, the unseen narrator continues in a whisper; a conclusion is eventually reached, yet interpretations are infinite, and the deadpan academic isn't satisfied with his own. "Alas! And yet..." The bone-dry drollery is inspired by De Sadean artist Pierre Klossowski, but the liquidity of storytelling and arch spatial stratagems are Ruiz's, with the frozen models (Jean Reno, Bernard Daillencourt, Alfred Baillou, and Jean Narboni are among the human mannequins) supplying the equivalent of the freeze-frame style of Colloque de Chiens. Sasha Vierny's cinematography clinches the closing jibe at L'Année Dernière à Marienbad, static visions vivified by tracking shots, and by the auteur's impish analysis: While the Collector laments ambiguity, Ruiz is happy to let the force of images emerge out of their elusiveness, the way an entire narrative might lurk within an esoteric visual arrangement, animated by what can be seen, what can be reproduced, and what can be imagined. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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