Three Crowns of the Sailor

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Three Crowns of the Sailor
Directed by Raúl Ruiz
Produced by Paulo Branco
Written by Raúl Ruiz
Starring Jean-Bernard Guillard
Music by Jorge Arriagada
Cinematography Sacha Vierny
Edited by Valeria Sarmiento
Release date
  • 1983 (1983)
Running time
117 minutes
Country France
Language French

Three Crowns of the Sailor (French : Les trois couronnes du matelot) is a 1983 French fabulist film with surrealist and oneiric flourishes written and directed by Chilean director Raúl Ruiz. [1]

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

In literary criticism, the term fabulation was popularized by Robert Scholes, in his work The Fabulators, to describe the large and growing class of mostly 20th century novels that are in a style similar to magical realism, and do not fit into the traditional categories of realism or (novelistic) romance. They violate, in a variety of ways, standard novelistic expectations by drastic—and sometimes highly successful—experiments with subject matter, form, style, temporal sequence, and fusions of the everyday, fantastic, mythical, and nightmarish, in renderings that blur traditional distinctions between what is serious or trivial, horrible or ludicrous, tragic or comic. To a large extent, fabulism and postmodernism coincide; John Barth, for example, was labeled a fabulist until the term "postmodernism" was coined.

Surrealist cinema is a modernist approach to film theory, criticism, and production with origins in Paris in the 1920s. The movement used shocking, irrational, or absurd imagery and Freudian dream symbolism to challenge the traditional function of art to represent reality. Related to Dada cinema, Surrealist cinema is characterized by juxtapositions, the rejection of dramatic psychology, and a frequent use of shocking imagery. Philippe Soupault and André Breton’s 1920 book collaboration Les Champs Magnétiques is often considered to be the first Surrealist work, but it was only once Breton had completed his Surrealist Manifesto in 1924 that ‘Surrealism drafted itself an official birth certificate.’



The film opens in black and white with the motiveless murder of a professor by his student in Warsaw in 1958. The student walks through the war-torn streets whereupon he meets a sailor who offers him passage from the country through a job on board a ship. They go into a dancehall to wine and dine while they negotiate the deal; the student agrees to listen to the sailor's life story as part of the payment and then to give him three Danish crowns.

Warsaw City metropolis in Masovia, Poland

Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. The metropolis stands on the Vistula River in east-central Poland and its population is officially estimated at 1.765 million residents within a greater metropolitan area of 3.1 million residents, which makes Warsaw the 8th most-populous capital city in the European Union. The city limits cover 516.9 square kilometres (199.6 sq mi), while the metropolitan area covers 6,100.43 square kilometres (2,355.39 sq mi). Warsaw is an alpha global city, a major international tourist destination, and a significant cultural, political and economic hub. Its historical Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The sailor tells his story – depicted in colour – but is interrupted on several occasions by the student who either questions his logic or complains that he has heard this story told time and again. The story begins in Valparaíso where, in search of employment, the sailor is told about a possible place on board a ship called the Funchalense by a local swindler known as "the blind man", whom he later finds stabbed and dying. The sailor brushes this off and obtains the berth before bidding a fond farewell to his mother and sister. He then describes his new crewmates, whose bodies are tattooed with solitary letters of the alphabet. They eat (though salt is forbidden on board) and they never defecate, sweating maggots. One throws himself overboard, yet the next day he is back on deck, saying that it was "The Other" who jumped into the sea. On another occasion, the sailor himself is trapped inside the body of "The Other", and as he wanders around the boat in bewilderment, encounters multiple visions of himself from this alternative perspective.

Valparaíso Place in Chile

Valparaíso is a major city, seaport, and educational center in the commune of Valparaíso, Chile. "Greater Valparaíso" is the third largest metropolitan area in the country. Valparaíso is located about 120 kilometres (75 mi) northwest of Santiago by road and is one of the South Pacific's most important seaports. Valparaíso is the capital of Chile's second most populated administrative region and has been the headquarters for the Chilean National Congress since 1990. Valparaíso has seven universities.

The story continues to unfold through the sailor's experiences as the Funchalense sails from port to port. In Buenaventura, he befriends and becomes the benefactor of a shy, gum-chewing, doll-collecting, Corín Tellado-reading prostitute named María whom others have called "The Virgin Mary". In Singapore, the French proconsul introduces him to a small boy who is actually a venerable doctor and the sailor adopts the boy as his son. The sailor then witnesses his ship sink, only to miraculously resurface. He finds a replacement mother who is a stowaway on board and then two criminal brothers in Tangier. When he returns to Valparaíso, he finds his actual mother and sister have disappeared, encounters an eccentric Portuguese travelling salesman, and then falls in lust with the mambo dancer Matilde, a femme fatale whose mouth is her only orifice. In Tampico, the sailor meets a scholarly boy who has lived the sailor's entire life through literature. Finally, the sailor meets a wise man in Dakar, a paternal figure who inexplicably asks him for three Danish crowns.

Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca Municipality and town in Valle del Cauca Department, Colombia

Buenaventura is a coastal seaport city on the department of Valle del Cauca, Colombia. Buenaventura is the main port of Colombia in the Pacific Ocean.

Corín Tellado Spanish romantic novelist

María del Socorro Tellado López, known as Corín Tellado, was a prolific Spanish writer of romantic novels and photonovels that were best-sellers in several Spanish-language countries. She published more than 5,000 titles and sold more than 400 million books which have been translated into several languages. She was listed in the 1994 Guinness World Records as having sold the most books written in Spanish, and earlier in 1962 UNESCO declared her the most read Spanish writer after Miguel de Cervantes.

Singapore Republic in Southeast Asia

Singapore, officially the Republic of Singapore, is an island city-state in Southeast Asia. It lies one degree north of the equator, at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, with Indonesia's Riau Islands to the south and Peninsular Malaysia to the north. Singapore's territory consists of one main island along with 62 other islets. Since independence, extensive land reclamation has increased its total size by 23%. The country is known for its transition from a developing to a developed one in a single generation under the leadership of its founder Lee Kuan Yew.

A common motif in all of the sailor’s tales is that he has to borrow money in order to progress. Before he can live a happy life as the owner of a bar with his assorted adopted family members, he must pay off all the debts he incurred from his time on the ship. He wins most of the money that he had borrowed by gambling with the ship's captain, with the exception of the elusive three Danish crowns.

The sailor and the student drunkenly leave the dancehall, collect the three crowns from the murdered professor's house, and walk to the harbour. The sailor's story finished and the three crowns paid, the student demands his berth. When the sailor laughs at him and says the student has not earned it yet, the enraged student bludgeons the sailor to death. The sailor immediately reappears on the ship as a phantom and the student understands the true price of the job. The film concludes that there must always be one murderous living sailor among a boat of dead men. The Funchalense sails off to the open sea.


Lisa Lyon is a female bodybuilder and photo model from the United States, and is regarded as one of female bodybuilding's pioneers.

Diogo Dória is a Portuguese film actor who has worked in France and Portugal and is most associated with his films for director Manoel de Oliveira.

Style and themes

Three Crowns of the Sailor employs various filters to imply different cinematic states. The conversation framing the sailor's journey is mostly denoted by a black and white filter reminiscent of film noir, while the tale itself unfolds in rich colour. Cinematographer Sacha Vierny also uses a variety of cinematic techniques ranging from split-focus diopter, dolly zooms, Dutch tilts and Milton Caniff-inspired mise-en-scène. Various shots cast attention on background elements or subdue the essential subjects with focus on details and objects in the foreground. These various framing techniques often illustrate one of the "six functions of the shot" referenced in Ruiz's later film meditation, Poetics of Cinema .

Photographic filter filter ND

In photography and cinematography, a filter is a camera accessory consisting of an optical filter that can be inserted into the optical path. The filter can be of a square or oblong shape and mounted in a holder accessory, or, more commonly, a glass or plastic disk in a metal or plastic ring frame, which can be screwed into the front of or clipped onto the camera lens.

Film noir film genre

Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood's classical film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1920s to the late 1950s. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key, black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography. Many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Great Depression.

Cinematographer chief over the camera and lighting crews working on a film

A cinematographer or director of photography is the chief over the camera and light crews working on a film, television production or other live action piece and is responsible for making artistic and technical decisions related to the image. The study and practice of this field is referred to as cinematography.

The cinematic style of the film evokes Ruiz's meditations on the "image-situation" and the method of propagating thought through audiovisual schemas rather than through the transparent plots prescribed by "central conflict theory". Ruiz's varied shooting style illustrates the alternative evocative method mentioned in Poetics of Cinema:

"In all these projects I seek to move from one world into another, using a technique described in baroque Venice, 'Il Ponte,' a way of producing anamorphic agents to play with the four levels of medieval rhetoric: literal, allegorical, ethical, and anagogical... Except that instead of seeking to read all four levels at the same time, the aim is to skip constantly from one level to another. The jump is the element of surprise that not only procures a sudden illumination, but all the pleasure as well. Imagine a slalom skier propelled with each turn not just in another direction, but on to a completely different slope. In this way he manages to travel four different journeys at once, though the point is not in the journeys themselves but in the beauty of his leap from one world to the next." [2]

Thus, some understand these distinctive frames as "jumps" between the four levels of rhetoric, which simultaneously reminds the audience of vital diegetic and symbolic filmic elements and encourages the audience to make the critical interpretive connections these cognitive gaps generate. [2] One term for this mode of production is "visual polysemy." [2]

Three Crowns expresses Ruiz's feelings towards acclimating to life in Paris after leaving Chile in exile. The duality of the living and the dead represented on the Funchalense, a ghost ship redolent of the Caleuche and Flying Dutchman myths (the latter hinted at by composer Jorge Arriagada's elements of Wagnerian pastiche), is representative of the diaspora after the 1973 military coup abruptly ended President Salvador Allende's democratic attempt to integrate socialism into Chilean political culture. The sailor is leaving his home city of Valparaíso to journey the world with a crew of dead sailors. All the crewmembers on the Funchalense are unable to return to their homes and thus rather than having a nationality, they belong to the boat. This is a symbolic representation of having to leave behind your nationality in a foreign land. [3] Bérénice Reynaud has also pointed out the literary and cinematic works that Ruiz is drawing on in the film: from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), Erich Maria Remarque's The Night in Lisbon (1962) and the writings of Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Louis Stevenson, Selma Lagerlöf, Karen Blixen, Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar to the Orson Welles films The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Mr. Arkadin (1955) and The Immortal Story (1968). [4]


Although Three Crowns has become one of Ruiz's best-known works and is regarded as one of his most accessible films, when it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival it had a high walk-out rate as it was seen as "deliberately unsynopsizable", according to critic Janet Maslin. [5] Despite this, it was well received for a made-for-TV work, winning the director the Perspectives du Cinéma Français award at the Festival. [6] Ruiz later claimed it was his least favorite of his own films, due to the fact that he had adhered to a conventional script when making it, rather than creating scenes that simply "wanted to exist". [3] Nevertheless, he returned to the theme of mysterious storytelling-obsessed sailors many years later in Litoral (2008).

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  1. "Le Cinéma de Raoul Ruiz: Les Trois couronnes du matelot". Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  2. 1 2 3 Ruiz, Raoul. Poetics of Cinema, Paris : Éditions Dis Voir, 1995.
  3. 1 2 Goddard, Michael (2013). The cinema of Raúl Ruiz : impossible cartographies. New York, N.Y.: Columbia U.P. ISBN   9780231167307.
  4. Reynaud, Bérénice. "Three Crowns of the Sailor (Les Trois couronnes du matelot, France, 1982)". Rouge.
  5. Maslin, Janet. "Movie Review – RUIZ'S 'THREE CROWNS,' IN FRENCH". New York Times.
  6. "Cannes Film Festival (1983)".