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One night Tadeusz, a student, murders his friend and tutor, the owner of an antique shop. The disturbed young man wanders through the streets and meets a drunken sailor who offers him a deal: for 3 Danish crowns he’ll get the fugitive a job at his ship – but he must get the money before the night ends, and he must listen to the sailor’s story.
There is a folklore legend in Chile about a ghost ship that sails the seas with the souls of the drowned on board. It's called the Caleuche. Chilean filmmaker Raoul Ruiz uses this legend as the basis of this movie. One night Tadeusz, a student, murders his friend and tutor, the owner of an antique shop. The disturbed young man wanders through the streets and meets a drunken sailor who offers him a deal: for 3 Danish crowns he'll get the fugitive a job at his ship - but he must get the money before the night ends, and he must listen to the sailor's story.
The Three Crowns of the Sailor is, among other things, a movie about personal stories and about telling stories. The movie gives as much emphasis to the importance of the student listening to the sailor's story as it does to the way the non-linear episodes that constitute the narrative are filmed. What the sailor narrates is banal in itself: tales of love, murder, friendship, money - the stuff we've seen in movies a thousand times before. But it's the way the protagonist jumps from one situation to another and how Ruiz and his crew capture these situations that make the movie so remarkable.
A ship is never in the same place long and so it's the perfect vehicle for a loosely plotted story. The sailor travels around the world, meeting a cast of bizarre men and women with their own little stories, with the beautiful landscape always changing (portions of the movie were filmed in Portugal and France).
The classic master of cinematography, Sacha Vierny (long-time collaborator of Alain Resnais and Peter Greenaway), makes use of a myriad of tricks to make each segment of the movie unique - black-and-white filming that recalls film noir, orange filters that submerge the movie in a golden light, Vertigo zooms, reflections in mirrors, strange lighting effects, and obtrusive uses of foreground objects. The cinematography treads a fine line between shameless self-absorption and visual poetry - there isn't a shot that doesn't call attention to itself, and someone may justifiably get tired of it after a while; but for those viewers who love the way a movie looks like, this is a fascinating experience.
Ruiz imbues several scenes with a sense of surrealism - in one of my favourite episodes, a prostitute takes the sailor to her private bedroom, the one she only takes special clients to; it's a creepy place, not only because she keeps her coffin there (on which she glues a chewing gum for each client), but also because of the juxtaposition of innocence and perversion symbolised by dolls hanging from the ceiling and emitting bright lights from inside their hollow heads.
Jean-Bernard Guillard delivers an efficient performance as the sailor. I don't think this movie is too concerned with characters, so Guillard was a bit on his own here, trying to make his character coherent from scene to scene whiteout ever going into his psychology or giving him conflicts, leaving him enigmatic and unpredictable - but he pulls off a charismatic and emotional performance nevertheless The movie's finale is the movie itself - unexpected, indefinite, and of lyrical beauty. The Three Crowns of the Sailor is not a movie one watches to know what happens next, to see things come together like in a traditional narrative. It's a movie that asks the viewer to enjoy each scene in itself and not care too much about cause and effect. If the viewer takes this simple suggestion, he'll certainly enjoy this most unusual movie.
Source : IMDb