Franco-Chilean director Raoul Ruiz died Friday in a Paris hospital of a lung infection, cutting short a career that was still producing poetic cinematic marvels in his 70th year.
Ruiz’s "Mistérios de Lisboa" (Mysteries of Lisbon), a four-and-a-half hour saga about the life of the 19th century Portuguese aristocracy, was last year acclaimed by critics as a masterpiece and wowed festival audiences.
But when he passed away he was working on a more intimate project, editing a film he had shot about his childhood in Chile, while preparing to shoot another about a Napoleonic battle, his producer Francois Margolin said.
"He was one of our greatest living filmmakers, who left considerable work and will remain a reference in the history of cinema," Margolin told AFP.
Ruiz’s innovative films, which played with the cinematic form, have been compared to the magical realist novels of literary greats and fellow Latin Americans Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges.
In accordance with his wishes, Ruiz is to be buried in his native Chile. A religious service will also be held in Paris on Tuesday, which is expected to be attended by many of his friends from the world of art cinema.
President Nicolas Sarkozy was one of many in France to salute his passing, calling him an "unmatched storyteller" who was also "a man of universal culture drawing inspiration from all the arts in all countries."
However, the press and cinema world in Santiago stressed the paradox surrounding Ruiz, pointing out that while he was the most influential, prolific and admired Chilean cineaste in the world he was, as the El Mercurio daily put it, "the least well-known and the least followed" in his native land.
This was in part due to his lengthy exile. Despite his wish to be buried in his homeland, Ruiz never wished to go back to live in Chile after the end of the dictatorship.
He himself evoked his ambiguous relation with the country.
"I sense a kind of hostility," he told the El Mercurio in a 2003 interview.
"I dare not accept the invitations I get because, at first everyone is nice to me, but later they start treating me badly."
Chile’s Culture Minister Luciano Cruz-Coke admitted that Ruiz was "to a certain extent removed from the Chilean public," adding that his work "is not to everybody’s taste."
The director was born on July 25, 1941, in Chile and grew up near Valparaiso where his father was an officer in the merchant navy. He studied law and theology but became an amateur playwright and set up a film club at university.
He directed his first full length features, "Tres Tristes Tigres" (Three Sad Tigers) about the interconnected lives of three citizens of Santiago in 1968, but in 1973 fled his homeland’s descent into right-wing dictatorship.
His work continued to develop in Paris, and he worked with many greats of European cinema on around 100 movies, many of which were hailed as complex triumphs of baroque and dreamlike storytelling.
"He lived in his world. A world of youth, fantasy and learning, with an inventive approach to form that was unbelievable. He was an artist guided by a sophisticated secret dreamworld," said actress Arielle Dombasle.