THREE LIVES AND ONLY ONE DEATH (Râúl Ruiz, 1996)

Chilean emigré Râúl Ruiz had been living in Paris for about twenty years when he made his surreal, intricate Trois vies & une seule mort about split identity and various forms of separation. It consists of three episodes, in each of which a major character looks identical (Marcello Mastroianni, captivating) while living a different life; a fourth episode, or coda, with another such identical twin, suggests that all four men occupy a single body, each immersed in his own role and reality.
     The film begins as a radio-broadcasted story that becomes what we see, which is structured as a story-within-the-story as told by Mateo to Andre, a stranger in a café. Mateo, the first husband of Andre’s wife, left María twenty years earlier to live in a nearby apartment, “the proportions” of which “were deceptive.” Resident Time-eating fairies trapped Mateo in an alternate reality of their own conjuring: a story-within-the-story-within-the-story. Mateo brings Andre to this apartment; failing to convince Andre to swap places with him so that he can reunite with María, Mateo plants an ax in Andre’s head, buries the body and heads home. The arrangement of mirrors gives us triplicate views of both man and former wife. María presumes that Andre has abandoned her and welcomes Mateo with open arms. Here using Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “Wakefield” as a springboard, Ruiz and Pascal Bonitzer’s brilliant script starts spinning its delightful web.
     In subsequent episodes Georges Vickers, seemingly on a whim, trades in his respected role as university professor to become a beggar and Butler, a butler, is actually the anonymous benefactor of the poor young couple he is slowly poisoning. In the coda, Luc Allamand is a banker and arms dealer exploiting and “poisoning” more than a couple of us.

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