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64 min. Spanish.

More than 50 years have passed since Raúl Ruiz – always a welcome guest at the Berlinale Forum – worked on his first feature in Santiago de Chile. He never finished it. In 1973, the military putsch forced him into exile, and the film reels only turned up much later in a cinema. Valeria Sarmiento – director, and Ruiz’s widow – took on the footage. Deaf consultants helped her reconstruct the dialogue by reading the actors’ lips. The story centres on Mr. Iriarte, whose life is turned upside down by the death of his wife. She haunts him at night, her wigs scurry around the parquet floor, and eventually even the devil himself makes an appearance in this playful, mirrored arrangement. El tango del viudo y su espejo deformante moves backwards and forwards in time, as though yesterday were tomorrow and today 50 years ago: the ideal opening film for the Berlinale Forum’s anniversary year. (cn)

Raúl Ruiz was born in Puerto Montt, Chile in 1941. He studied law and theology in Argentina. While studying, Ruiz wrote numerous plays and television scripts. After the 1973 coup in Chile, he moved to France, where he made most of his more than 100 films for cinema and television. Several of Ruiz's films have been shown in the Forum and in the Competition of the Berlinale. He died in Paris in 2011.

Valeria Sarmiento was born in Valparaíso, Chile in 1948. She studied at the School of Film and Television of the University of Chile in Santiago de Chile. Sarmiento worked on numerous artistic projects together with her husband Raúl Ruiz, and was also responsible for editing many of his films. She has also made over 20 documentaries and narrative films, some of which she produced in her native Chile. Valeria Sarmiento lives in Paris.

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.

Reconstructing dialogues
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)

Production Chamila Rodriguez, Galut Alarcón. Production company POETASTROS (Santiago, Chile). Directed by Raúl Ruiz, Valeria Sarmiento. Written by Raúl Ruiz, Omar Saavedra Santis, Valeria Sarmiento. Cinematography Diego Bonacina. Editing Galut Alarcón. Music Jorge Arriagada. Sound design Galut Alarcón. Production design Raúl Ruiz. Casting Raúl Ruiz, Chamila Rodríguez. Executive producer Chamila Rodríguez. With Ruben Sotoconil (Widower (screen)), Sergio Hernández (Widower (voice)), Claudia Paz (Ghost (screen)), Chamila Rodríguez (Ghost (voice)), Luis Alarcón (Silva (screen)), Néstor Cantillana (Silva (voice)), Shenda Román (Lola (screen)), Gabriela Arancibia (Lola (voice)), Delfina Guzmán (Ana (screen)), Marcela Golzio (Ana (voice)), Luis Vilches (Nephew (screen)), Gabriel Urzua (Nephew (voice)).


Raúl Ruiz: 1963: La maleta (20 min.). 1964: El regreso (40 min.). 1968: Tres tristes tigres (100 min.). 1972: La expropiación / The Expropriation / Die Enteignung (60 min., Forum 1990). 1975: Diálogos de exiliados / Dialogues of Exiles (100 min.). 1976: El cuerpo rapartido y el mondo al reves / Mensch verstreut und Welt verkehrt (67 min., Forum 1984). 1979: L’hypothèse du tableau volé (66 min.). 1981: O Território / The Territory (104 min.). 1983: Berenice (105 min., Forum 1984). 1984: La présence réelle (64 min., Forum 1985), Manuel na ilhas das maravilhas / Manuel auf den Wunderinseln (152 min., Forum 1985). 1985: Richard III (135 min., Competition (Special Screening) 1986). 1986: Mémoire des apparences (100 min., Forum 1987). 1992: L'oeil qui ment / Dark at Noon (100 min.). 1994: Fado majeur et mineur (110 min.). 1996: Trois vies et une seule mort / Three Lives and Only One Death / Drei Leben und ein Tod (123 min.). 1997: Généalogies d’un crime / Genealogies of a Crime / Genealogien eines Verbrechens (114 min.). 1999: Le temps retrouvé / Time Regained / Die wiedergefundene Zeit (162 min.). 2003: Ce jour-là / That Day (105 min.). 2006: Klimt (98 min.). 2010: Mistérios de Lisboa / Mysteries of Lisbon / Die Geheimnisse von Lissabon (312 min.).

Valeria Sarmiento: 1972: Un sueño como de colores, Poesía popular: La teoría y la práctica (20 min.), Los minuteros (15 min.). 1973: Nueva Canción Chilena (20 min.). 1975: La dueña de casa (23 min.). 1979: Le mal du pays (18 min.), Gens de nulle part, gens de toutes parts (60 min.). 1982: El hombre cuando es hombre / A Man When He Is a Man (66 min.). 1984: Notre mariage (95 min.). 1991: Amelia Lópes O'Neill (95 min., Competition 1991). 1992: Latin Women Beat in California, El planeta de los niños / Planet of the Children (62 min.). 1995: Elle (86 min.). 1998: Carlos Fuentes: Un voyage dans le temps (45 min.), L'inconnu de Strasbourg (100 min.). 1999: Mon premier french cancan (52 min.). 2002: Rosa la China (102 min.). 2004: Au Louvre avec Miguel Barceló (25 min.). 2008: Secretos / Secrets (85 min.). 2012: Lines of Wellington / Lines of Wellington – Sturm über Portugal (151 min.). 2014: Diario de mi residencia en Chile: María Graham / Maria Graham: Diary of a Residence in Chile (118 min.). 2018: O Caderno Negro / The Black Book (113 min.).


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