Josiah Morgan’s review published on Letterboxd :
Fold this film in half, poke a whole through two points and then you'll have lived it.
This is the closest I've seen a film construct itself in allegiance to the literary works of a master like Pynchon. Ruiz was always chameleonic, a fighter, yet one that won battled asleep and observed conflict when awake. It's the shapeshifting in Mysteries of Lisbon that makes it so unattainable. If anything, this film is about the mystery of social conditioning: the ways we live under (for...) memories of those who have been gone; those sinners situating themselves immortal in paintings and history books, screaming manifestos manifest on papers that multiply three generations later.
We are lucky to live in a culture that created a language like this. These characters don't matter for what they speak, but they do matter for when they listen. Generational conspiracies find themselves kindled (rekindled, kindled again, ablaze) in imaginations imagined by Ruiz himself. These imaginations are in turn reflections of memories. Memories themselves are only personal histories, and histories are just propagandist material filtered through the mouths of biased storytellers. If we are our own biased storytellers, then the stories we invent are in patient turn the most impatient honesty. We can be taught histories, but we cannot be taught memories. We can construct. That is all we have left. We sign a contract upon birth to construct means of living.
Fathers belong to God in occupation, in death, and in absence. Fathers pray, fathers are prayed for, and fathers are praying. Ruiz - father of light, father of Joao. What are you looking for?
We are seen in mazes and black clothing, statues holding humans immortal purgatorial constantly seen one day forgotten. This contract is signed earlier than birth, it is signed in the womb, in the scrotum of the father. That we will one day Be. What does it mean if we are not Being? This is absence. Absence abstinence abstract appropriation - we can only create histories if we are there to experience. We only hear conversations we have ears in, and only feel touch with our own skin and organs. What does it mean if we are not Being?
If we are not Being, we are owned by Deity, even if we do not believe. Deity is perhaps the same as Story. Story is perhaps the same as Religion. Religion can be Dangerous, it can also be the definition of Health. Sometimes Religion is about choosing to believe things that even we know are untrue. I do not have a relationship with religion, except that I do not exist without my context and I come from histories of Christianity and Maori deity - Maui slowing a sun, Rona alone with Marama, the trees and the birds and the sky and the ground have names and know how to breathe, or used to.
Even when the film is not about Joao, it is about Joao. Even when art has nothing to do with my life, it has everything to do with me - every lip I've kissed has been kissed by my lip, every film I've seen has been seen through my eyes, every touch I've touched was through my own, my own, my own, my own, m(y own everything).
The final contract is signed when the music begins as the early seconds of the film play on, this final contract is that which ensures our end. After four hours we are not the same, we have lived with and lost Joao and those around him, we have become one of the titular mysteries of Lisbon, and we have to uphold our duty.
This contract is death, and our history restricts, constricts, restructures and contends. And so we are left, statuesque, noticed and unseen, a memory of a history inexperienced, something Joao knows of but cannot touch. Touch is only worth so much.
I have spent four hours looking in on Joao, and he has spent four hours looking out at me, stuck in his own story, constructed and contraband.