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The husband who goes out for cigarettes and never comes back, the university professor who abandons his wife to live on the street, the servant who's really a millionaire in disguise--these are all stories that have crept into our subconscious as half-remembered television plots or tales overheard on the subway. In Three Lives and Only One Death, director Raúl Ruiz combines several of these universal anecdotes into what he calls a "Cubist pattern" that focuses on one unassuming resident of Paris, played by Marcello Mastroianni. The result is a droll, ingenious, and consistently surprising film that has inevitably been labeled surrealist, simply because the plot doesn't follow a straight line of development.
But where the surrealists were deliberately irrational, drawing their inspiration from dreams and free associations, Ruiz works from highly rational, analytic principles, spinning his stories from puns and puzzles, from arcane theological texts and traditional literature of the fantastic. Three Lives contains references to such American fantasists as Bierce and Hawthorne, though its deepest roots are in the intellectually playful fiction of Jose Luis Borges--a master who Ruiz very nearly equals. --Dave Kehr
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