PARIS — Raoul Ruiz, the Chilean-born filmmaker who made more than 100 films in his teeming, international career, has died. He was 70.
A favorite of cinephiles, Ruiz rebelled against the conventions of moviemaking in an extensive, varied body of work that didn't result in a widely-known masterpiece, but left behind a vast, labyrinthine collection of experiments, curiosities and innovations.
Ruiz died Friday at Saint-Antoine Hospital in Paris following complications from a pulmonary infection, said Francois Margolin, a producer of several films by the director. Ruiz had lived in Paris since fleeing Chile in 1973 to escape the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
An avid reader, his filmography is lined with literary adaptations, including versions of works by Franz Kafka ("The Penal Colony," 1970), Nathaniel Hawthorne ("Three Lives and Only One Death," 1996, starring Marcello Mastroianni), Pedro Calderon ("Life Is a Dream," 1987), Shakespeare ("Richard III," 1986) and Marcel Proust in "Time Regained" (1999), perhaps Ruiz's best regarded film.
Ruiz's sprawling 4 1/2-hour "Mysteries of Lisbon," based on the 19th century novella by Portuguese author Camilo Castelo Branco, was released in New York and Los Angeles earlier this month. The film has drawn excellent reviews and in December was awarded the Louis Delluc Prize for best French film of the year.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy described Ruiz as a man of "immense erudition and infinite curiosity" and a "worthy son of the Enlightenment."
Born July 25, 1941, in Puerto Montt, Chile, to a middle class family and the son of a ship captain, Ruiz studied law and theology at the University of Chile before a Rockefeller Foundation grant in 1962 afforded him the opportunity to devote himself to writing.
He wrote a huge quantity of plays before he was 20 years old (he boasted that it was more than 100 plays) and worked as a writer on TV novelas. His first feature film was 1968's "Three Sad Tigers."
Later in Europe, he would continue to work in French television. He also taught film at Harvard and served as the co-director of the Maison de Culture in Le Havre, France, where he was able to produce his own films and those of others.
"Ruiz is the least neurotic of filmmakers," film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote. "He doesn't even seem to care whether what he's doing is good or not (and, as he's aptly noted, bad work and good work generally entail the same amount of effort)."
Ruiz dismissed conflict as an unnecessary quality in drama. He spelled out this belief in his 1995 book, "Poetics of Cinema."
"America is the only place in the world where, very early, cinema developed an all-encompassing narrative and dramatic theory known as central conflict theory," he wrote.
Few of Ruiz's films have been available in the United States. He made a handful of American films, including "Shattered Image" (1998) and "The Golden Boat" (1990). He also directed 2006's "Klimt," a biopic of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt starring John Malkovich.
"Film is often considered something inert, as something that can be manipulated: you organize it; you cut it," Ruiz said in a recent interview with The New York Times. "We forget that the cinematographic image exists by itself. The quantity of information that the image carries – against the will of whoever is trying to organize it – is enormous."
At the time of his death, Ruiz had been editing a film about his childhood in Chile. He was also preparing a film set in Portugal about a Napoleonic battle.
Ruiz is survived by his wife, filmmaker Valeria Sarmiento.
Coyle contributed to this report from New York