Un Chien Andalou
The title perhaps means nothing more than an Irish bull, and this is certainly a kind of shaggy dog story on the subject of marriage, with an ending Beckett takes as the starting point of Happy Days (Ah! les beaux jours).
The rat and the scorpion. Obviously a new testament is called for.
The Majorcans arrive, and found Imperial Rome. The order is imperious, plainclothesmen drag the lover away.
The mistress persists in the Eternal City. They meet and part, her sympathy is for the conductor.
From his upper room the lover expels his passion. Jesus tends a last survivor of the 120 days.
The Cross bears its pelts.
Terre sans Pain
Las Hurdes, one of the dark places of the earth, seen cruelly and pitilessly for what it is, inviolate in its ignorance, pristine in its want of medicine, food, water, the least thing necessary.
The monks of four centuries are gone, but the churches are inexplicably splendid. A religion of death is the last of the faith.
Two months’ worth of reportage after which “we left that country”.
The Spanish Republic is heralded in an endnote, Franco and Hitler and Mussolini decried.
An Argentinean oilman in the great Mexican fields has three wells blocked from production by a vast German firm that employs the proprietor of the Gran Casino and his gang of hired thugs to drive workmen away.
The style is instantly recognizable as cognate with that of the great Joseph Kane (Young Bill Hickok, Flame of Barbary Coast). Buñuel’s vast technical proficiency might have been gained in two films as co-director during the Thirties, but he always had that.
He follows a performer from the stage of the Gran Casino down around the hall and back up in a continuous shot through the admiring crowd, he has a characteristic cut on action followed by a camera move, and those many inspirations that are typical of his work, as when the hero talks with his girl and dabbles a stick in some bubbling crude the while.
The ending figures later in Huston’s The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.
The great flashlight number, in which singer and chorines each hold the item charmingly and light up their faces or turn it on the crowd, is another inspiration, a bit like Sternberg’s Der blaue Engel.
Mexico is old and new, Buñuel mounts a Western saga with musical numbers done simply, à la Minnelli. The hero sings with casual accompaniment, crosses the room as he does so and brings back a fresh bottle to continue uninterrupted.
A great, funny film with murder and mayhem (from Hamlet, the arras), which Dave Kehr in the New York Times has described as a Communist manifesto.
El Gran Calavera
He, The Great Madcap of the title, carouses genially like a Chaplin figure and laughs at everything, his wife is dead. An ancient trick sobers him up, he turns the tables on his lazy family, puts the office back in order, saves his daughter from a fortune-hunter and sees her married to the poor but honest and hard-working man she loves.
A perfect comedy, fast and very brilliant, with the Roman quid pro quo that is a hallmark of this period.
Janet Maslin saw it in 1977 on “its first New York theatrical run” and couldn’t follow it exactly, having never seen a screwball comedy before, “but, Buñuel being Buñuel, politesse easily prevails at the expense of reason” (New York Times).
The famous line at the end of One-Eyed Jacks (dir. Marlon Brando) describing “a jackass one night looking in your window” sounds as if it were a memory of this exposé, in which children are literally thrown away on garbage dumps.
Cif. Crichton’s Hue and Cry.
Susana is a fully-formed masterpiece in Buñuel’s mature style, though it has lain under a cloud of incomprehension for which Buñuel himself is said to have apologized, suggesting impossibly that he had failed to educe the irony of the material.
In fact, he painstakingly laid it out so that there is no mistake (a photograph of him during production shows a director very much like Howard Hughes or Fritz Lang setting up a close shot). He does this in two ways, first by establishing the premise in no uncertain terms, and then by developing it in the utmost very slowly and carefully, like cooking a roast.
The film begins and ends with a girl being carried away to jail kicking and screaming, a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life (dir. Frank Capra) that is one-half the key to the whole business. Buñuel further accentuates and clarifies the position with the girl’s prayer, leading to her escape. Finally, he presents her at the hacienda window like the ass in his previous film, Los Olvidados.
Susannah and the Elders is the other half of the work. This helpless girl whom Jesus would not have condemned is viewed by her rescuers with more or less veiled self-interest that almost proves their undoing, but the structural formula is to analyze in an eyeblink the unforgettable shot of Violet in Potterville.
Two aspects of Buñuel’s direction are noteworthy, his consistent deep compositions, and the general framing of the drama along lines suggestive of the Roman farce. He does not go so far as to film the girl spied on while bathing, but nearly (cf. Annakin’s Miranda). The acting and characterizations are precisely what you would expect from Buñuel, a thousand natural touches revealing life at every moment, with a particularly monumental view of the family (the girl is a Hollywood bombshell and blonde).
In short, and to sum up at once the irony and the greatness of the work, here is the parable of the woman taken in adultery, only she is punished after all, while her accusers bask in lawful mediocrity—and dispraise this film as a commonplace or trifle, a commercial “melodrama”.
La hija del engaño
A grrreat masterpiece in the Roman style utilized by Buñuel for Susana, which (or El Gran Calavera) forms a double bill with this.
Don Quintin, deceived, conceives a hatred that colors his life for twenty years until the “daughter of deceit” he left on a doorstep is returned to him as if by miracle. Meanwhile there is the El Infierno nightclub, where a priest backstage doesn’t know where to look, and Jovita and Angelito and Jonrón.
The final appeal to the camera antedates Bob le Flambeur (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville) and of course Dillinger (dir. John Milius).
Subida al Cielo
The arduous way to Heaven by courtesy of a Mexican bus ride fulfills a mother’s last wishes even beyond the grave and is only a small delay in the journey from San Jeronimito (a long way from Las Hurdes) to the isle of the honeymooners.
Una Mujer sin Amor
Buñuel is reported to have disavowed this film in the strongest terms and in such a way as to preclude criticism, but it is evident that it is composed from first to last, and constructed on one major and one minor model, so that Buñuel’s position seems designed to avoid misunderstandings above all.
The first third is a straightforward version of Anna Karenina (dir. Clarence Brown or Julien Duvivier) abruptly ended so as to suggest It’s a Wonderful Life (dir. Frank Capra), of which the entire structure is a surrealistic anagram with a reverse position, namely that George actually leaves. Rather than itemize the countless scintillations of difference obtaining thereby (it makes for a brilliant film), let us consider the direct narrative thread between the opening scene and the last image.
An antique shop, the client asks the lady of the establishment if the objet d’art in his hands is not from the beginning of the century. She denies this, “it’s authentic.” Years later, she takes her lover’s picture from a small casket, places it on the mantelpiece, and sits down to knit.
The film is especially remarkable for being directed at Mr. Potter more than representing him.
There is to be said only that far from his worst film, this is quite consciously a most sustained bit of inspiration perfectly conceived and realized, and among Buñuel’s finest works.
And, after all, if this is a Cayatte remake from Maupassant, it will have to be admitted that Buñuel makes great films even in his sleep.
Buñuel is the very dry prestidigitator who rolls up his sleeves not for the very dramatic effect and distraction of it, but simply so that you should not be imposed upon by draperies. Everything is very simple and direct, and when the camera moves, as when it dollies in and tilts down to show the Señora cutting flowers to make her point, it moves on again (tilting back up to the two-shot of Señor and Señora) as they resume the conversation, having made its point.
El Bruto, as he is called (his name is Pedro), works in a meat packing plant. Old Señor runs a butcher shop, is wealthy enough to maintain a ménage with young Katy Jurado and starve his spindly father, and wants to evict the tenants of a building he owns so he can demolish it. To meet their objections, he summons the law and then The Brute, who smites the ailing leader of the opposition (this is the poor Mexico of the lame and the halt) and quells the resistance.
The sort of brute El Bruto is Buñuel shows by having him chased one night by a mob. He hides in a darkened shed and reaches his hand out to throttle a chicken lest its squawk give him away. Next door is young Meche, the dead man’s daughter, who ignorant of the crime removes the metal rod obtruding from El Bruto’s shoulder (he brings her a fresh chicken the following day). But when he first enters her room from the shed, he anxiously places his hand over her mouth to silence her, revealing the whole sequence as a quotation from Of Mice and Men (dir. Lewis Milestone), to humorous effect.
El Bruto has been living behind the butcher shop and carousing with Señora, but when he brings Meche home the tables are turned. Señora tells all to Señor, who pulls out a pistol, El Bruto smites him, she calls the police, he dies in a gun battle filmed in a long shot. And the whole film exists between two images, both of Señora. She is first seen admiring herself in a mirror in the butcher shop with a bit of meat between her teeth, and that’s the first image, a mouth in a mirror. At the last, after the shootout, her passionately staring face regards a rooster on the banister of a staircase as she goes out.
The curious casting of Pedro Armendariz as El Bruto is surprisingly effective. His hair is combed down over his forehead and parted in the middle, his sleeves are rolled up, and you may not have noticed before that he’s a very strapping fellow, or is it acting alone that accomplishes this?
Lewis Gilbert’s Alfie is the prime beneficiary of this, but there is ample room for Polanski and Truffaut. The definition of the hero is surrealistically given, and the rest is a common joke. The filming is very severe and brilliant, with a certain tendency toward Una Mujer sin Amor and Emilio Fernandez.
Also toward the later Buñuel, as the story will be told in conversation, as flashbacks. The clapper in the bell...
La Ilusión Viaja En Tranvía
No. 133 is perfectly serviceable, though senior mechanics don’t think so, and it’s already headed for the scrap heap, so the repairmen get drunk and take it out for a spin after the Christmas play (in which one of the two plays Satan, a boozing angel who uses the Paraclete for target practice, and the other plays God).
This was altogether lost on Janet Maslin when it finally screened in New York after nearly a quarter-century, “at times ponderous and rambling” (New York Times).
Abismos de Pasión
Buzzards in a dry tree are roused by gunfire in the opening shot. Eduardo is a butterfly collector, he reaches into a large jar and pulls out a glorious specimen, the camera shows him pinching and pinning it, then fixing it on a spreading board. “Precisely,” he tells Catalina, “they do not suffer.” All this is right out of Nabokov.
Alejandro in the rain comes to a lighted window like the ass in Los Olvidados. Ricardo gives the game away as an outright caricature of Orson Welles, “working against all custom, who breaks away from the flat horizon so that sometimes the whole scene spins haphazardly, the ground seeming to seesaw in front of the hero as he strides toward the lens.” Now, Ricardo is a drunk. Eduardo and Alejandro are modeled on Dan Duryea and Victor Mature.
Buñuel shows here and there that he can set up a shot for the picture, but his primary working method is rather like the Method, with the actor and some object creating an image, or the actor isolated in an emotional state. Thus Catalina and Alejandro in their old haunts hold an empty lantern and a knife, respectively (and he pokes the lantern with the knife). Eduardo is seized with jealousy and takes to his bed, but given further instigation turns his face to the pillow with a grimace of pain.
The abyss of Alejandro’s passion is the underground crypt where he dies beside Catalina’s coffin, shot by Ricardo whom he abased.
The book appears first, closed, under the credits. When they’ve run, the book is opened and the shadow of the author or Robinson Crusoe falls across the printed page (an image that must have impressed Neruda). The camera now includes a map, which dissolves to the wreck of the Ariel briefly seen as a shadowy montage. The dissolve ends on Crusoe in the waves seen from the beach. He crawls out onto the sand, and Buñuel cuts to a reverse shot from the waves at a downward angle on Crusoe seated, looking back at the ocean.
The purpose of the first shot is to curtail the shipwreck as an unpleasant memory (Hitchcock had actually filmed a shipwreck at the beginning of Jamaica Inn). The reverse shot establishes the plane of the beach continuing under the water and reveals the long struggle of Crusoe as dramatically as any shot could. The entire sequence shows how finely conceived and executed this film is. A very precise transcription of each shot would be very instructive.
The scene continues as Crusoe sees a body in the waves, tries to rescue it, fails (the body has sunk) and re-emerges with his back to the ocean. Dripping wet, he tosses back his head to get his hair out of his eyes, and goes inland. The gesture paints him as a resilient young man very effectively. Dan O’Herlihy plays the first part of the film as a clever yet inexperienced youth. The modulation occurs in a remarkable dream sequence. Why does Crusoe, racked by fever, dream of his father washing a pig? He remembers the prodigal son, and shortly finds a Bible among the effects he has retrieved from the wreck.
The simplicity of Buñuel’s technique meets the wholeness of his images directly, with nothing left over. Crusoe prospers in his solitude, and one night he gets drunk on the ship’s rum. He hears his shipmates singing “Down among the dead men” (which is to say, under the table amidst empty bottles). The singing in his ears stops when he remembers himself, and Buñuel dollies out to a wide shot of his inanimate dwelling.
There are a couple of shots that show Crusoe firing his musket at some food, inescapably resembling the opening of The Beverly Hillbillies. This balances the image of Granny in her rocking chair atop the truck, taken from Renoir’s The Southerner. Other influences are notably Herzog (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) and Brook (Lord of the Flies).
At the end, Crusoe is a graybeard who has quelled a mutiny and returns to civilization, rounding out the allusion to Shakespeare’s last play, by tradition. The mutineers have put down a cannibal war party, from which Crusoe rescues Friday, first a servant and then a friend. Buñuel films the famous discovery as Hitchcock might have, in a tracking shot on Crusoe’s feet. They step across the sand and halt dramatically, as the camera shows a new wonder.
Friday is briefly enchanted by Crusoe’s gold coins. He fancies them as ornaments and rigs himself out in a coin necklace, as well as a pink dress with black trim. Armed with a cutlass, he announces himself ready for battle.
A theological discussion later on is repeated as the celebrated tree frog scene in Herzog’s Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser).
Ensayo de un Crimen
All of Buñuel’s work passes through this “stab at a crime” like a lens, from Un Chien Andalou to That Obscure Object of Desire. It’s the midpoint of his creations, the highpoint of his urbanity, the endpoint of his terse surrealism and the starting point of The Phantom of Liberty’s transcendence (after the gold-digger’s suicide, her lover is told by a detective he may “do as he pleases now”—Buñuel dollies in for a close-up of Giacometti proportions, and this is the tale of the assassin who is “sentenced to life” in the later film).
Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits profits from the ending, and Coppola’s Dementia 13 from it all.
Swans hiss at the world because they’re swans. The music box suggests The Magic Flute (dir. Ingmar Bergman). Relationships to Hitchcock have been noted, and the doppelgänger theme. The artist or the intellectual suffers the world in his mind, and is placed at a disadvantage thereby. When Patricia puts off Archibaldo, Buñuel cuts to the base of his potter’s wheel being rotated by his legs, then tilts up to show his hands in the whirling pot.
In the end, the young man burdened with riches casts off his hoarded wealth and his cane.
El Río y la Muerte
Wyler has this as The Big Country, Buñuel’s structure is essentially a huge gloss on Borges’ story “The South”, with a different ending.
An endless feud recounted typically as the centerpiece, the man in the iron lung slapped by the opposing party, who rues but does not regret, a couple in the wee hours (cut to a rooster crowing, tilt-and-pan to his hens, dissolve to a doctor by daylight, writing a prescription).
La Mort en ce Jardin
The title, Death (or The Death) in This (or That) Garden, is exceptionally ambiguous or precise, having no fewer than four possible translations.
The precisely structured script is also exceptional. Haydn meant his music for tired businessmen, Buñuel opens in an open pit mine at noon, several characters gather for lunch, one is about to tell a story when the Federales close the mine altogether and the film begins.
Finally, the film is exceptional as an action adventure, one furthermore that might have been made in Hollywood. Hawks and Huston figure largely, there’s nothing in it that can’t be found in this or that American film, but nowhere do all these elements occur together in quite this combination. Anyway, everyone is served by the comparison, because the surrealism of Hollywood is often as overlooked as the realism of Buñuel.
The technique favors long takes with minute camera movements for re-composition, placidly allowing the script to introduce new elements without emphasis. Buñuel cuts to surprising effect when required, naturally. The village priest (Michel Piccoli) signs in at the jail to visit a dying prisoner, comforting him with vain speeches and all the while wiping the ink from his fingers with a handkerchief. The hero (Georges Marchal), also a prisoner, observes this with a start—and it gives him an idea. He asks the priest for ink and paper to make a confession, and when the guard brings them, our hero weighs the pen briefly in his fingers, jabs it in the guard’s eye and escapes. The point is the quick close-up of the priest’s fingers and the reaction shot, followed by a totally unexpected conclusion.
Niven Busch, Anthony Mann, John Sturges, Raoul Walsh, are all reflected by a conversant master in a frankly French style. Charles Vanel dreams of using his diggings to take his deaf-mute daughter (Michèle Girardon) to Paris for treatment, and he has a lovely young bride in view as her mother, not knowing the woman is a prostitute (Simone Signoret). The hero rolls over in his hotel bed and finds his hand on her hip. In the morning, he’s arrested while she calmly sews on a button. The miners revolt, reinforcements arrive, a proclamation is issued, all four and the priest head for Brazil through the jungle.
A film that prefigures Peckinpah and The Graduate (dir. Mike Nichols) and E la nave va (dir. Federico Fellini), compromises nothing whatsoever and insists on its own intelligibility as a Western adventure.
Buñuel’s Mexican priest is Candide, a perfect recipient of the famous advice, which he gets in the form of a pineapple.
The general trend is toward a strict adherence to Christ’s teachings, with apostles and miracles, on the part of this charitable contemplative.
La Fièvre monte à El Pao
A Latin American dictatorship and yet the same logic as Capra’s in State of the Union, compromises are fatal, the level is reached where they no longer serve, one’s “destiny is accomplished.”
The art of the possible, politics.
Eisenstein would certainly appreciate the inevitable joke of the title, a rising politico’s fever chart.
The Young One
A fairy tale arranged in modern elements so as to perplex all hell out of certain reviewers.
An island game preserve, a warden and his captive audience. To them a clarinetist pursued by a lynch mob.
From the mainland comes a preacher, and with him an evil friend of the warden’s. Thus the situation is exacerbated still further to a crisis.
In parts admired, but not Crahan Denton’s bravura punctilio as the friend, nor Claudio Brook’s émigré preacher. On the other hand, Zachary Scott and Kay Meersman and Bernie Hamilton get their praises a year after Ranald MacDougall’s The World, the Flesh and the Devil.
Rats are for cats, says Buñuel, who knows why, but it’s better that way.
Some latter-day Objectivists complain that Christ was a Collectivist and an economic charlatan, but the truth is He told the rich young man to sell and give away because it is necessary to put your God-given talents out at interest, not sit on your class.
El Ángel exterminador
At once you recognize Renoir’s La Règle du jeu, and very shortly Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, in considerations of style that figure as a certain level of abstraction. The repetitions are of no significance except insofar as they point toward the only one that really matters in the end, the coda.
After the opera, a white-tie dinner. The guests don’t go home, that’s all there is to it, and then they do.
Put another way, when the sheep leave the fold, the goats come in, at church or at the mansion on Providence Street. “The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling...”
The dilemma is also faced in Viridiana.
Le Journal d’une Femme de Chambre
The New York Times pretended that Buñuel had weakened on the grounds that he could not make himself understood, but the true difficulty lay no doubt in the fact that De Sica had not made The Garden of the Finzi-Continis at the time.
Simón del Desierto
The simplest of all Buñuel’s films, except that its structure resembles Un Chien Andalou as long setup and short punchline.
How do you explain the boredom of popular culture? The devil hath power to fly St. Simeon in a passenger jet to New York and plunk him down in a rock club, very well, he is bored.
Belle de Jour
A newlywed who will not love her husband turns to prostitution in the afternoons instead, out of curiosity perhaps.
An Ovidian metamorphosis in which the couple end up a pair of carriage horses in the Bois de Boulogne.
But for that to occur, she must know the ways of men, and he that she is no statuary ideal.
An amusing preparation for Cet Obscur Objet du Désir, and one helpful to Bertolucci in his analytical transposition of the later film (Besieged).
La Voie Lacteé
A pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
The history of the faith is on every hand, the living mysteries attend one, all of it is very instructive and useful.
Much of the criticism on the part of reviewers is simply ignorant, but Buñuel has his two beggars on the road to hit the crowds. Do the blind see?
A restless spirit linked with father and husband, an interval of a lover hobbles her.
The great longing for a release in which all goes backward and she is a girl again.
A great masterwork set in the Twenties that belonged to Un Chien Andalou, filmed in Toledo with El Greco’s aerial view (Madrid for interiors) and a fondo sonoro by Buñuel.
Le Charme Discret De La Bourgeoisie
Those “cocaine towers” in The Tailor of Panama (dir. John Boorman), and the famous party Harold Pinter was ejected from, with Arthur Miller at his heels, and anything but the Last Supper.
“Les rêves sont quelquefois…” Sylvia Plath’s lamb, par exemple.
Le Fantôme De La Liberté
A pure Surrealist exercise on a single theme, le coq gaulois (Rimbaud).
As there is nothing more than this, the towering exemplar of our English-speaking critics falls rather limply by the boards, even with a cheerleader such as Canby on the sidelines.
The straightforward treatment rises to skyscraper heights from a toilet-bowl supper (Matthew 15:10-20) and the missing Aliette and Breton himself on the 30th floor.
The most civilized, cultured, cosmopolitan gentleman in all the world extends himself graciously in a masterwork built on the beauty of the French language, the supremacy of French actors, and the camera properly used.
Cet Obscur Objet du Désir
The ancient metaphor of the king’s repining mistress. Olivier’s The Prince and the Showgirl, El, somewhat along those lines. The politics are extended to present circumstances, the Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus is on the move.
Mathieu loves his two-faced flamenco chambermaid, she wants marriage. The affair drifts in and out of various crises without resolution. Primarily a tale that is told in the Seville-Paris train, stopping at Madrid.
Simple as that, with Die Walküre as background to a cataclysm. Ford’s Mogambo is the presiding influence.