Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983)

Ruiz’s stylish, surreal visual style here is breathtaking at times, but the film is challenging to get into because of its nebulous storytelling.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review #2,248

Dir. Raoul Ruiz
1983 | France | Drama | 118 mins | 1.33:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some sexual references and coarse language

Cast: Jean-Bernard Guillard, Philippe Deplanche, Nadege Clair
Plot: A drunken sailor recounts the surrealistic odyssey of his life story to a murderous student.
Awards: Perspectives du Cinema Award (Cannes)
Source: Les Films du Jeudi

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Memory, Experiences
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex/Elliptical
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Thanks to MUBI, this is the first film that I’ve seen from the Chilean master, Raoul Ruiz, and judging from the experience, it is not exactly the best way to get introduced to his brand of cinema, though he is certainly a filmmaker I am interested to explore more when further opportunities come my way. 

One aspect that is distinctive from the get-go is the stylish, surreal visual style on generous display, lasting throughout the entire film.  From one vignette to the next, we are brought back to an earlier time as a drunken sailor recounts stories of his past to a young student who has murdered a person. 

Using strong, intoxicating colours such as red or purple filters, and showing a range of exotic locales where eccentric folks reside, Ruiz’s work is best described as a fever dream. 

“Remember me, and I promise to forget everything.”

It is breathtaking at times, but as far as the narrative is concerned, Three Crowns of the Sailor is as nebulous as it gets, a hazy stab at weaving multiple stories—and storytellers.  The sailor would recount, say, a memory that he had experienced, or a memory of a story that someone else had told him. 

After a while, it really doesn’t matter who’s telling what, or what the stories are about—in other words, things become inconsequential, just like the murder that opens the film.  As such, I found it challenging to get into or to resonate with the characters, who I guess are ultimately at wits’ end and battling their own personal demons. 

Grade: B-


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