“down endless corridors”… again

Raúl Ruiz’s Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (L’hypothèse du tableau volé) (France, 1979) seems to be one of the very few films that truly kept exploring territory opened up by Last Year at Marienbad a decade or so before, as the monotone narration, sumptuous rooms populated by living mannequins, the ethereal, shimmering black and white images composed of shadows gradations, lines and light (master cinematographer Sacha Vierny was behind the look of both films) all seem to bear the external influence of Resnais’s landmark film…

But beneath the glassy, elegant surfaces both films share an uneasy, all-consuming desire to arrange the pieces of the present into a past that (most likely) never was. If Marienbad remains the superior film it’s only because Hypothesis seems too distanced from “life” while there’s something about Marienbad that seems to keep cutting through the artifice into something real, something elusive but almost tangible… no, for all of Hypothesis‘s many stunning qualities it never manages to quite overcomes the sensation of being an sophisticated parlor game, a beautiful, almost miraculous little trick of words, paint and celluloid that seems only capable of existing in its own rarified little world of cinema, literature, and art itself.

And if that sounds like a knock, I don’t intend it to be (one of my favorite quotes: “it was art; though remote from life, it enhances life’s values…” E.M. Forster, Howard’s End); it just lacks a certain substance—it’s as fragile, diaphanous as a half-remembered dream. It might be slight, and all things considered it’s rather minor, but I still consider it a treasure.


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