On Top of the Whale

One of Raul Ruiz’s best features, this is also one of his looniest — shot in Holland in about a week’s time, although it’s supposedly set in Patagonia. The putative SF plot concerns a French anthropologist and his Dutch wife who are hired to study the indecipherable language spoken by two members of an Indian tribe; in fact, this is a dazzling intellectual goof, with an average of one striking visual idea per shot (the gorgeous color cinematography, including many trick shots, is by the great Henri Alekan, who filmed Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast), a lot of gags involving the pretensions of anthropologists and psychoanalytical theorists, and other forms of nonstop invention. This being a Ruiz film, you shouldn’t expect anything from the story or the performances; the dialogue is in five or six languages (one of them invented), and the lead actress appears to have learned her English lines phonetically (1982, 93 min.).

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