The kooks in Raúl Ruiz’s That Day tenderly cultivate their insanity as if tending to exotic flowers, an attitude disarmingly in tune with a director whose long filmography reads like a pawnshop of baroque objects. The Chilean filmmaker, a workaholic surrealist and an incorrigible prankster, loves storytelling, particularly if it implodes conventional narrative—stories casually sprout within stories, sequences sift like sand through fingers, and there’s a persistent feeling of mystery from shot to shot. Compared to the pyrotechnics of Three Lives and Only One Death or Time Regained, That Day remains linear, though Ruiz’s plot, set in Switzerland “in the near future,” scores just as high on the what-the-fuck meter: Livia (Elsa Zylberstein) and Pointpoirot (Bernard Giraudeau) are the loony soulmates, she an airily scattered heiress and he a diabetic psychopathic murderer, brought together by a suavely absurd conspiracy. Livia’s ruined bourgeois clan, presided over by Michel Piccoli, schemes to have her offed by Pointpoirot so they can cash in on her inheritance. However, when would-be victim and predator turn pals and the rest of her family drops by, the chateau halls set the stage for an Ealing-style farcical killing spree. (Meanwhile, the cops adopt a hilariously do-nothing attitude, enjoying meal after meal at the local eatery as the corpses pile up.) There are more than enough laugh-out-loud moments—Livia and Pointpoirot’s slow dance is scored to the chimes of the dead relatives’ discarded cellphones, while Édith Scob, her leathery visage in close-up as a perverse reminder of Eyes Without a Face, exults the nuances of bottled sauce—but Ruiz’s best gags are formalist: A cut from the misty outdoors to a dining room has one of the characters polishing the camera’s eye, and the extended chase between Pointpoirot and Livia’s gun-toting brother (Laurent Malet) is staged as a repeatedly advancing-receding tracking shot in a posh hallway. That Day is a Chabrolian parody, just as Colloque de Chiens is a goof on Fassbinder and Shattered Image is an erotic thriller send-up, though Ruiz’s off-kilter elegance welcomes (and rewards) multiple readings. The whimsy often seems about to dissolve before your eyes, yet the director’s faith in cinematic expression, mirroring the heroine’s faith in fallen angels, keeps it floating like a weightless toy.
The focus is sharp, even if some of the darker tones occasionally sport a greenish tinge. The sound is equally clear (not that Ruiz really needs to raise his voice to twist narrative into pretzels).
The bare minimum: A theatrical trailer and a Ruiz biography/filmography.
A cinematic jest so airy you only afterwards notice how macabre it is. To quote one of the nincompoop coppers: "Evidently something to reflect on."