Raúl Ruiz about the film
"The story revolves around a man whose wife has committed suicide and appears to him as a ghost. The ghost follows him everywhere, under beds, under tables... After seeing the ghost so frequently, the man, as if in a spiral, begins to resemble her, becoming more and more feminine and we realise that he was never really married and what is really going on is a schizophrenic game wherein his personality is doubling." (Raúl Ruiz)
A dialogue to continue
Since Raúl died in August 2011, I haven't stopped dreaming about him. Every time I close my eyes, I remain alert to signs of a parallel kind of life, a life in which Raúl and I continue to live together, where we sometimes argue and fight, and also continue to understand each other as friends and companions, where we sometimes walk, listen to music, look out the window, cook, and above all talk about God and the world. And it's true: after Raúl’s death I continued my relationship with him in [my] dreams. Every time I delve into the endless notebooks, diaries, and the theatre, opera, or film projects he left unfinished, or that remain as initial gestures of his creative power, this dialogue that I continue with him follows me into sleep. With EL TANGO DEL VIUDO, in the rooms of the house where he lived with his parents Olga and Don Ernesto, I find the same poetic, philosophical, and critical intentions that characterise Raúl’s work, only in a pure state, as with a new toy. For me, completing his first feature film is a way of materialising this dialogue that comes directly from the world of dreams, where we make films as if following improvised cooking recipes, and where we create something with the means at our disposal. That's why neither Raúl nor I will ever stop making films. Within the puzzle of his oeuvre, which comprises more than 120 films, EL TANGO DEL VIUDO Y SU ESPEJO DEFORMANTE will represent a fundamental work. (Valeria Sarmiento)
The permeability between the world of the living and the dead
During 2016 and 2017, while researching and post-producing THE WANDERING SOAP OPERA, a film directed by Raúl Ruiz in 1990 and completed under the direction of filmmaker Valeria Sarmiento, we learned about the existence of footage from other unfinished projects by Ruiz. Among them, a set of 35mm rolls of EL TANGO DEL VIUDO, his first feature film, filmed in 1967 and kept in the cellar of an old cinema in Santiago de Chile. In a news article of the time, Ruiz referred to the obstacles that made it impossible for him to finance the film’s audio post-production: "The future will be responsible for giving this movie sound, which today is being stored silent." What could define this film, now liberated from the cellar, is the rescue of Raúl Ruiz's first feature, filmed at the young age of 27. However, on closer inspection, we realise that this basic analysis is inadequate and that we are dealing with an essential work whose creative process was, as it were, frozen for more than fifty years (1967-2019). A long time for the original footage to go from the set to the editing room.
In the meantime, the film has been completed in several stages under the artistic direction of the filmmaker, producer, and widow of Ruiz, Valeria Sarmiento. In 2018, a group of people born severely deaf, who are also experts in reading lips, facial expressions, and body language, deciphered the dialogues of the actors on screen. The playwright and screenwriter Omar Saavedra Santis created a literary template, which was extremely successful in view of the complexity of the work and allowed us to distance ourselves from the film in order to find the right tone. Ruiz referred to EL TANGO DEL VIUDO as an experimental film that combines different humorous situations from Chilean everyday life through elements of horror and fantasy, involving a widowed teacher who is haunted by the ghost of his wife.
Valeria and her team already gave definitive form to the dialogues in the editing room, and realised that the characters inhabit their city in an era that makes it seem more like a timeless village, stuck in a state of underdevelopment. This generates a narrative atmosphere in which, surprisingly, certain elements from Ruiz’s films appear, which he was already testing out in this film (his first feature). Noteworthy, for example, is the permeability between the world of the living and the dead, with ghosts casually inhabiting reality as if they were humans made of flesh and bone. There are also characters that, in a game of constant personality splitting, are one and many at the same time. Also, some of the codes come from the magical thinking of the Mapuche people and the islanders of Chiloé in the south of Chile, a usual source of inspiration in Ruiz’s cinematic universe.
The original film and its double
The rediscovered footage is completely chaotic, full of short repetitive fragments from previous scenes, like sharp pieces that have no connection to one another. It appears like an inaccessible and evanescent nightmare, populated by inverted images, both in terms of the shots and the reversed sequences. Moreover, there are other scene fragments, with new shots that show scenes that have already repeated from a different point of view. Valeria Sarmiento wanted to connect the concept of this filmic enigma with the distorting mirrors that her husband liked so much. She lucidly remembers a handwritten text in one of Ruiz's notebooks, in which he generically describes his intention to make a film with a spiral structure, but to break it with a "narrative mirror" that in a sense forces the viewer to revisit previously watched scenes. This would involve a completely different sensory experience, marked by a symbolic power that is redundant in form but not in content. This text has been key to deciphering this mysterious footage, and has articulated the structure of the permeability between the world of the living and the dead in two parts: firstly, there is the original film, and then there is its double, in which a new narrative territory provides new linguistic ideas and new possibilities of interpretation.
Musician Jorge Arriagada, an eternal collaborator of Valeria and Raúl, was so enchanted upon seeing one of the first cuts of EL TANGO DEL VIUDO that he created a selection of soundscapes, from symphonic to minimalist, ultimately finding the element that would define the sound identity of the image: a sonata for a chamber orchestra equipped with handsaws and a theremin. (Poetastros)