Structured as a tale within a tale, Raoul Ruiz’s fractured, defiantly illogical Nucingen House returns to the territory of On Top of the Whale and its otherworldly, tongue in cheek sense of foreboding in its hermetic construction of polyglot characters, suspended time, and inescapable limbo. Unfolding as a reconstructed memory told by an American gambler, Will James (Jean-Marc Barr) upon overhearing a nearby dinner conversation discussing – rather imprecisely – a third hand account of the strange events that James and his fragile wife, Anne Marie (Elsa Zylberstein) had encountered years earlier during their stay at a remote estate called Nucingen House, the film incorporates familiar Ruizian elements of mnemonic devices, dark humor, and repetition in its loopy tale of haunting and possession. Having arrived at Patagonia to claim property that he had won in a bet and facilitate Anne Marie’s recuperation, the unwitting couple is soon introduced to the household’s idiosyncratic rules (one that relegates certain languages and religion to peripheral areas of the house) and equally eccentric family – an insomniac housemaid (Miriam Heard) who seems to exist in a perpetual state of waking dream, an indifferent patriarch (Laurent Malet) who refuses to leave but cannot pay rent, a young man who seems constantly pressed for time (Thomas Durand), a flirtatious young woman (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) who continues to mourn the loss of her best friend, Léonore (Audrey Marnay), and a perennial houseguest [and family physician (Luis Mora)] prone to taking cat naps at the dinner table. Ever straddling the line between highbrow and camp, Nucingen House ultimately suffers from a broader schism, where atmosphere is counteracted by the starkness of video, and any cultural allegory on modern day Chile is tempered by a reinforcing self-awareness of its construction.
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