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Raoul Ruiz, Famed and Prolific Chilean-Born Director, Dead at 70

Raoul Ruiz, Famed and Prolific Chilean-Born Director, Dead at 70

Raoul Ruiz, the prominent Chilean-born filmmaker who directed over 100 films over the course of his career, died today in Paris after a prolonged illness. He was 70.

The news was initially broken via Twitter by Chile’s Minister of Arts and Culture, Luciano Cruz-Coke.

“Mysteries of Lisbon,” Ruiz’s latest film to open in North America, was released by Music Box Films earlier this month and continues to play in major cities.

During the production of “Lisbon,” a four-and-half-hour period piece produced for European television, Ruiz discovered he had a cancerous tumor in his liver, leaving many to speculate that it would be his final film. However, Ruiz recently completed an adaptation of French novelist Jean Giorno’s “La noche de enfrente” and had been in preproduction on “As Linhas de Torres,” a Portuguese production co-starring Mathieu Almaric and John Malkovich, with whom the director had collaborated with on several previous projects. Filming was scheduled to begin this month.

Although a vast majority of his films never received U.S. distribution, Ruiz has maintained his status as an internationally renowned filmmaker for several decades. His first feature, “Three Sad Tigers,” won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival in 1968. After leaving Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in the early 1970s, Ruiz resettled in France and continued his prolific output. There he garnered acclaim for a string of surrealist works, including “The Hypothesis of a Stolen Painting” and “Three Crowns of a Sailor,” which played at the New York Film Festival in 1985. Among the films released in the U.S. during this time, the dreamlike “City of Pirates” landed on several critics’ top ten lists in 1985. The Village Voice critic J. Hoberman, who championed Ruiz before many of his films made it to the U.S., composed an obituary this morning in which he recalled the director’s temporarily expanded U.S. profile when two of his films played at New York’s Film Forum in 1988. “The fact is Ruiz was Ruiz and Ruizian is a concept that has long since been part of film critical apparatus,” Hoberman wrote.

In the ’90s, Ruiz entered a new phase of recognition by working with stars. His 1999 Proust adaptation “Time Regained” starred Catherine Deneuve and garnered widespread critical acclaim. Other productions during this period include the Malkovich vehicle “Klimt,” in which the actor played the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt.

For a number of years, Ruiz managed to fund many of his projects through support from France’s National Audiovisual Institute, but over time he turned for financing to a variety of different sources, including television and small film studios. He also authored two volumes of scholarly writings on cinema, “Poetics of Cinema” and “Poetics of Cinema 2” and at one point taught at Harvard.

In July, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott profiled Ruiz for the paper’s magazine from the director’s apartment in Paris, where he lived with his wife and frequently collaborator, filmmaker and editor Valéria Sarmiento. “We forget that the cinematographic image exists by itself,” Ruiz told Scott. “The quantity of information that the image carried — against the will of whoever is trying to organize it — is enormous.”

Alfama Films Production, the company that produced “Lisbon” and had planned on working with Ruiz on an adaptation of the Napoleonic-era drama “Lines of Wellington,” issued the following statement this morning:

We are sad to announce the death today in Paris by director Raul Ruiz, following a long illness. Born in Chile July 25, 1941, Raul Ruiz was one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, with more than one hundred films to his credit. His latest film, Mysteries of Lisbon, received a unique reception worldwide. A religious ceremony will take place in Paris Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 10:30 am at St. Paul’s Church (99, rue Saint-Antoine, 75004 Paris, France). Raul Ruiz will be buried in Chile.

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