The Wandering Soap Opera manages to create the perfect portrait of a nation without culture, without guidance, lost in a post-dictatorial haze. Filmed in 1990 in the context of a workshop that Raúl Ruiz held with actors and technicians who knew about him, but hadn’t had a chance to work with him due to the military dictatorship that had just ended, the film constantly references “the returned,” those who came back from exile with big ideas about how the future of Chile would continue. But Chile had changed; it was like living inside a soap opera, and Ruiz’s characters jump from one to the next, address each other, or simply watch other soap operas. All of this is done through humorous vignettes that get slightly darker with each cut, ending in a nightmarish sequence that speaks of the absolute disaster that Chile will live under the so-called democracy: three men get together in a ghost house, to speak to each other, but they instead turn to their own pets, listening to what they have to say instead. Eventually completed in 2017 by Ruiz’s widow, Valeria Sarmiento, The Wandering Soap Opera is a complex object, but an essential one. There’s been a severe lack of understanding coming from most of North American reviewers and critics when confronted with it, which maybe stems from the implicit obscurity of the style or the fragmented nature of the film. But the resources are there, Ruiz almost spells things out when it comes to not trusting “the returned.”
Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 5.