Auspiciously set in the nebulous and indeterminate milieu of “Switzerland, in the near future”, Raoul Ruiz’s eccentric, surreal fable opens to the shot of an abstracted and dotty young woman named Livia (Elsa Zylberstein) sitting on a park bench overlooking a fog obscured dirt road that is curiously located near the entrance of the San Michelle mental health institution. While jotting down a series of random, fleeting thoughts into her journal, she meets a cyclist who is abruptly thrown from his bicycle and, convinced that he is an angel (since, as her idiosyncratic theory goes, all angels on earth have fallen), proceeds to explain that tomorrow is destined to be the best day of her life, or rather – as she corrects herself – the most important day, which she comes to realize is not the same thing. Soon after the encounter, Livia is whisked away by her faithful and devoted servant Treffle (Jean-François Balmer) and brought home to the family’s country estate where a crowd of snide and unscrupulously calculating relatives amass near the front steps awaiting her father, Harald’s (Michel Piccoli) return home to celebrate his birthday. The morning of Livia’s fateful day, December 28, arrives with the ominous news that a psychopathic killer, Pointpoirot (Bernard Giraudeau), has escaped from San Michelle (aided in part by a nefarious, enigmatic character named Warff (Féodor Atkine) who has a dubious task in mind for him). Detouring briefly from his assignment by visiting a pharmacy in order to pick up a digital blood glucose test monitor, the seemingly fastidious Pointpoirot arrives at the secluded estate, followed in dawdling, lukewarm pursuit by a pair of under-motivated police officers, Raufer (Jean-Luc Bideau) and Ritter (Christian Vadim), who decide to bide their time at a nearby café instead (whose owner, Morelli (Jacques Denis), acquiesces to Harald’s fickle whim to ban a ubiquitous bottled seasoning called Salsox from the restaurant). Left to her own devises after Harald schemes with her brother to send the protective Treffle away for the day, the naïve Livia observes Pointpoirot calmly shaving through his reflection on a glass paneled door and soon invites the complete stranger inside the home, unwittingly setting off a grimly bizarre chain of events in Harald’s opulent but forbiddingly desolate chateau.
Unfolding with the atmospheric and drolly sinister tone of a seemingly conventional murder mystery, Ce jour-là is a mischievously imaginative, deliriously hypnotic, and whimsical exposition on compulsion, personal will, greed, and destiny. Shot primarily from the idiosyncratic perspective of Livia and Pointpoirot – protagonists whose outward geniality and personal eccentricities also reveal a tenuous grasp of reality – Ruiz nevertheless retains the film’s overarching structure of off-balanced surreality within an absurdist narrative structure through isolating (almost hermetic), but inconstant and vacillating points-of-view and elegant camerawork: the resplendently fluid, levitating tracking shot as the camera shifts focus from Livia to the San Michelle patients’ bicycle ride; Pointpoirot’s literally warped and hallucinatory vision as he suffers from an episode of hypoglycemia; exaggerated and deceptively shifting camera depth within the Harald estate (particularly hallways) that obscures referential position and reinforces visual (and individual) subjectivity. Deceptively framing the conundrumic moral fairytale within the familiar and accessible structure of a noir whodunit, Ruiz boldly illustrates his indelibly sophisticated and iconoclastic cinema of malleable logic, puckish wordplay, wry humor, and elaborate conspiracy.
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