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Review: Raúl Ruiz’s absurdist telenovela ‘The Wandering Soap Opera’ is a singular treat

Patricia Rivadeneira in “The Wandering Soap Opera.” Credit: Cinema Guild
Patricia Rivadeneira in the movie “The Wandering Soap Opera.”
(Cinema Guild)

When experimental Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz returned from France to his Pinochet-free homeland in 1989, he began work on a small-scale project likening his status as an exile reabsorbing life in Chile — its politics, people and culture — to an absurdist telenovela.

Unfinished at the time of his death in 2011, “The Wandering Soap Opera” has since been completed by his widow, Valeria Sarmiento, and the movie is now here to confound, amuse — and remind us all of Ruiz’s singular sensibility. Broken into seven parts, with one segment wryly titled “If you behave badly in this life, you become Chilean in the next one,” Ruiz presents a range of archly ridiculous, melodramatic scenarios built on mixed signals, marred language and cross purposes among a populace emerging from a violent political nightmare. In a house overgrown with flora, a well-dressed man flirts with a receptive woman, who keeps saying, “People are watching us.” (We the viewers? Maybe a dictatorial state?)

In another, a group of women whose husbands have vanished in an “earthquake” jauntily discuss their manless future. And in perhaps the blackly funniest, set in a car at night, two killers are ambushed, their killers argue over what proclamation to leave, then that duo is killed by a new pair of armed and disjointed radicals — rinse, repeat. Deadpan and over-the-top, these scenes make for a view of turbulent reality that is episodic and nonsensical — and wholly Ruizian.

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‘The Wandering Soap Opera’

In Spanish with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes

Playing: Starts June 7, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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