The Territory (Raoul Ruiz, 1981)

by Smart

By pouring an astounding amount of skill and energy into the visual and atmospheric elements of his work, Ruiz is able to excuse stilted acting, a lack of narrative fluidity, disjointed exposition, clunky transitions and thorny sound mixing. This aggressively cinematic approach succeeds by overwhelming the viewer with a torrent of dense, sensory stimulation. It is a gamble that darts straight for the whimsy by first escaping without notice into a borderline fantasy scenario where all diversions from cohesive realism are effortlessly forgiven as just another uncovered piece in the larger puzzle that makes up the vibe, the tune, and the individually crafted language of symbols and behaviour that develops inwardly as it is progressively revealed. No matter how many undesirable quirks may threaten to pull us away and eject us from our already shifting post, for instance underdeveloped ideas which materialize out of thin air to establish themselves for but a few inopportune, chaotic moments, the compositional beauty, meticulous design, artistic presence and overall flavour persistently grows stronger to compensate. With so much value placed on maximising the strengths of the medium itself, this flamboyant directing style tends to bleed over into more customarily structured areas such as character development and transparent motivations. As a result, these rudimentary trappings can feel rushed, jumbled and all over the place, which throws the tone about wildly from scene to scene. Certainly this can be alienating, even destructive, but what it really results in is a clear, distinctive, bizarre display of confidence and purpose. There is no fault in the performances, which vary from nuanced to overdramatic, for they are all in aid of the singular metaphorical structure that is being built from the ground up to serve its own devices. As the journey continues the absence of any straightforward, relatable naturalness becomes the intention, for it portrays confusion and detachment as it fuels the impact of events and brings to the surface the internal process going on behind the eyes of each character. Such material can only be succinctly approached by defying the rules and regulations of real world conduct through the fictional substitution into a playground of imaginative expression.

I cannot fathom how but I swear that Ruiz always has the sun exactly where he wants it. His lighting is a miracle, whether indoors or outdoors, natural or artificial, day or night, there is definitely something going on that gives it a dreamlike, elegant, surreal, picturesque ambience. Meshes of living colour paint each shot, often changing at will to signal a shift in disposition or figurative landscape. Here the palette is made up of everything from the costumes to the foliage, with plenty of aesthetic tweaking going on over the top, teetering on the edge of being garish. Under all of these stunningly weaved images there are grander notions gestating than just those that the plainly taken narrative divulges at first glance. After submerging itself into the waters of a psychological and philosophical work of art horror, all the pieces rapidly fall into place. Everything from the discomfited first act had its purpose. Cannibalism has been normalised in a new world of pseudo-religion spurred insanity. Now that the unthinkable, weird and inhuman has happened, how can it be dealt with? Confusion flourishes as the mental collapse of each character manifests itself in their physical actions and abrupt change in composure. Stories surrounding the making of this film mention a few interesting occurrences, such as Wim Wenders borrowing the cast and crew to use for himself, Roger Corman producing via telegram, a dangerous dwindling of necessary funds, and Jon Jost filming a documentary at the same time that focused on Ruiz. Still, it was completed unharmed and the ending provides a genuinely potent, juicy and unexpected twist, while managing to squeeze in the strongest dramatic performance of it all as a final treat.

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