‘Luis Buñuel was a singular figure in world cinema, and a consecrated auteur from the start. Born almost with cinema itself, his work moves from surrealist experimentation in the 1920s, through commercial comedies and melodrama in the 1950s, to postmodernist cine d’art in the 1960s and ’70s. Claimed for France, where he made his celebrated early and late films, for Spain, where he was born and had his deepest cultural roots, and for Mexico, where he became a citizen and made 20 films, he has more recently been seen as a figure in permanent exile who problematises the very idea of the national in his films.
‘A surrealist, an iconoclast, a contrarian and provocateur, Buñuel claimed that his project was to pierce the self-assurance of the powerful. His work takes shape beneath the “double arches of beauty and rebellion”, as Octavio Paz put it. Recently, his sons have reasserted Buñuel’s view of Un Chien andalou, as “a call to murder” against the “museum-ifying” of the celebrations of his centenary. While this exaggerates somewhat his radicalism and outsider status, there is considerable consistency in his attacks on the bourgeoisie, whose hypocrisy and dissembling both amused and enraged him. “In a world as badly made as ours,” he said, “there is only one road – rebellion.”
‘Buñuel is in fact satirising his own class, to which he comfortably and unabashedly belonged. He understood the neuroses and pettiness of his middle class Catholic upbringing well. “I am still an atheist, thank God”, he famously said. It is one of his many paradoxes: he was both inside and outside. While a ferocious critic of the ideologies of the powerful in his films (the unholy trinity of bourgeois complacency, religious hypocrisy, and patriarchal authority), he enjoyed the fruits of this social order in his personal life. His wife’s memoirs Mujer sin piano (Woman without a Piano), written to fill out Buñuel’s own, in which she and her children are mentioned hardly at all, reads like the remembrances of a Stockholm-syndrome afflicted captive. Jeanne Rucar, who met Buñuel in 1926 and married him in 1934, tries to tell a love story but the pain and losses he inflicted on her, including that of her beloved piano, to a bet made by Luis without her consent, constantly shine through.
‘Without going as far as Paulo Antonio Paranaguá, who asserts that the “he” of the title is Buñuel himself, it is safe to say the director of El (1953), adapted from a novel by Mercedes Pinto, knew the material intimately. Part of his genius was this ability to stand outside his cultural self, dissecting desire and the torturous routes of its suppression in bourgeois, patriarchal Catholic societies. His films focus on male desire, and his female protagonists are often mere projections of it. But the characterisations of Viridiana, Tristana, and Sévérine in Belle de jour most notably, also reveal the way in which bourgeois society distorts and represses these women’s basic needs and desires “conspir[ing] to keep them in a position of subservience and servitude.”
‘The bourgeoisie interested him particularly because its good manners demand the repression of desire. His readings of Freud inspired him to study his class as a laboratory for the twisted return of the repressed. But it was the social and economic power of the bourgeoisie that made him want to implode it from within. If Henry Miller was right when he stated that “Buñuel, like an entomologist, has studied what we call love in order to expose beneath the ideology, mythology, platitudes and phraseologies the complete and bloody machinery of sex,” Luis was also, like an entomologist, interested in the relationships of power in sex, politics and everyday life; not just the mating dance, but the dance of homosocial power disguised beneath it, and all the other forms of power that can be exercised as violence and more subtle forms of repression.
‘Miller’s reference to the study of insects is apt; Buñuel did in fact consider becoming an entomologist. It also situates his directorial perspective. His sometimes unlikeable characters are engaged at a distance that wavers between pathos and bathos. We see their humanity, but he “blocks the pleasure of psychological identification […] by disturbing the aesthetic framework that solicits and guarantees it.” Buñuel’s stylish witticisms, or rather, witticisms of style, establish a relationship with the viewer over the heads of his characters. This relationship is free of concessions; there’s no effort at being liked or even understood. Commenting on The Exterminating Angel, Joan Mellen shows how he parodies the tracking shot by not allowing sufficient space to complete it. “Such overt intrusions of style”, she notes, “announce the real hero of Buñuel’s films, his the only consciousness we can respect”.
‘Yet this supremely individualistic, uncompromising director was always supported and surrounded by other talents that let his own flourish. Buñuel always wrote in collaboration: initially mostly with Luis Alcoriza, then Julio Alejandro, and finally Jean-Claude Carrière. This aspect of the “Buñuel apparatus” has been underexplored; perhaps these other writers were in fact just the midwives to Buñuel’s talents, and it is hard to quantify their contribution.
‘More than other directors, Buñuel has etched indelible images into film culture. The “Buñuelian” can refer to shots of insects, a sheep or other farm animal appearing in posh settings, cutaways to animals eating one another, bizarre hands, odd physical types and, especially, fetishistic shots of feet and legs (said Hitchcock of Tristana: “That leg! That leg!”). The term also implies the confusions of dream and reality, form and anti-form, an irreverent sense of humour, black, morbid jokes that hint at the constant presence of the irrational, the absurdity of human actions. Buñuel shares this sensibility with the Spanish esperpento, the distancing black comedy that has been considered an authentic Spanish film tradition.
‘He also shares with the esperpento an acid view of the powerful and their excesses, as well as a sense of sexuality as debasing and enslaving. Desires, sexual and political, are continually intertwined in his films. More than a call to murder, his best films are a call to an attempt at anarchist freedom, however futile, both in love and society.’ — Dominique Russell, Senses of Cinema
Luis Bunuel @ IMDb
Luis Bunuel @ The Criterion Collection
Luis Bunuel Film Institute
Luis Bunuel Official Website
Luis Bunuel Fan Site
‘The Essentials: Luis Bunuel’
Luis Bunuel overview @ Senses of Cinema
Luis Bunuel’s 10 Favorite Films
‘Buñuel – The Beginning and the End’
Luis Bunuel @ mubi
‘THE LIFE AND TIMES OF LUIS BUÑUEL’
‘The Religious Affiliation of Director
‘Conversation with Luis Buñuel on “Belle de jour”‘
‘A Charismatic Chameleon: On Luis Buñuel’
How to Make the Perfect Dry Martini
“To provoke, or sustain, a reverie in a bar, you have to drink English gin, especially in the form of the dry martini,” writes Buñuel. “To be frank, given the primordial role in my life played by the dry martini, I think I really ought to give it at least a page.” He recommends that “the ice be so cold and hard that it won’t melt, since nothing’s worse than a watery martini,” then offers up his procedure, “the fruit of long experimentation and guaranteed to produce perfect results. The day before your guests arrive, put all the ingredients—glasses, gin, and shaker—in the refrigerator. Use a thermometer to make sure the ice is about twenty degrees below zero (centigrade). Don’t take anything out until your friends arrive; then pour a few drops of Noilly Prat and half a demitasse spoon of Angostura bitters over the ice. Stir it, then pour it out, keeping only the ice, which retains a faint taste of both. Then pour straight gin over the ice, stir it again, and serve.” In the clip above, you can witness the man himself in action, a sight that gets me wondering whether Buñuel ever crossed paths with John Updike. Imagining such a meeting sets the mind reeling, but few quotes seem as apropos here as the New England novelist’s observation that “excellence in the great things is built upon excellence in the small.”
from My Last Breath, by Luis Bunuel
During the last ten years of her life, my mother gradually lost her memory. When I went to see her in Saragossa, where she lived with my brothers, I watched the way she read magazines, turning the pages carefully, one by one, from the first to the last. When she finished, I’d take the magazine from her, then give it back, only to see her leaf through it again, slowly, page by page.
She was in perfect physical health and remarkably agile for her age, but in the end she no longer recognized her children. She didn’t know who we were, or who she was. I’d walk into her room, kiss her, sit with her awhile. Sometimes, I’d leave, then turn around and walk back in again. She greeted me with the same smile and invited me to sit down—as if she were seeing me for the first time. She didn’t remember my name.
… As time goes by, we don’t give a second thought to all the memories we so unconsciously accumulate, until suddenly, one day, we can’t think of the name of a good friend or relative. It’s simply gone; we’ve forgotten…I search and search, but it’s futile, and I can only wait for the final amnesia, the one that can erase an entire life, as it did my mothers’.
So far I’ve managed to keep this final darkness at bay. From my distant past, I can still conjure up countless names and faces; and when I forget one, I remain calm. I know it’s sure to surface suddenly, via one of those accidents of the unconscious. On the other hand, I’m overwhelmed by anxiety when I can’t remember a recent event, or the name of someone I’ve meet during the last few months. Or the name of a familiar object. I feel as if my whole personality has suddenly disintegrated; I become obsessed; I can’t think about anything else; and yet all my efforts and my rage get my nowhere. Am I going to disappear all together? The obligation to find a metaphor to describe “table” is a monstrous feeling, but I console myself with the fact that there is something even worse—to be alive and yet not recognize yourself, not know anymore who you are.
You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all…our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing. Memory can be omnipotent and indispensable, but it’s also terribly fragile. The menace is everywhere, not only from its traditional enemy, forgetfulness, but from false memories…our imagination, and our dreams, are forever invading our memories; we end up transforming our lies into truths. Of course, fantasy and reality are equally personal, and equally felt, so their confusion is a matter of only relative importance…I am the sum of my errors and doubts as well as my certainties…the portrait I’ve drawn is wholly mine—with my affirmations, my hesitations, my repetitions and lapses, my truths and my lies. Such is my memory.
If someone were to tell me I had twenty years left, and asked me how I’d like to spend them, I’d reply: “Give me two hours a day of activity, and I’ll take the other twenty-two in dreams, provided I can remember them”.
During sleep, the mind protects itself from the outside world; one is much less sensitive to noise, smell and light. One the other hand, the mind is bombarded by a veritable barrage of dreams that seem to burst upon it like waves. Billions of images surge up each night, then dissolve almost immediately, enveloping the earth in a blanket of lost dreams. Absolutely everything has been imagined during one night or another by one mind or another, and then forgotten. I have a list of about fifteen recurring dreams that have pursued me all my life like faithful traveling companions.
Sometimes, too, I dream that I’m back home in Calanda, and I know there’s a ghost in the house (undoubtedly prompted by my memory of my father’s spectral appearance the night of his death). I walk bravely into the room without a light and challenge the spirit to show himself. Sometime I swear at him. Suddenly there’s a noise behind me, a door slams, and I wake up terrified. I also dream often of my father, sitting at the dinner table with a serious expression on his face, eating very slowly and very little, scarcely speaking. I know he’s dead, and I murmur to my mother or sisters: “Whatever happens, we mustn’t tell him!”
I find it impossible to explain a life without talking about the part that’s underground—the imaginative, the unreal.
I treasure the access to the depths of the self, which I so yearned for, that call to the irrational, to the impulses that spring from the dark inside the soul. It was the surrealists who first launched this appeal with a sustained force and courage, with insolence and playfulness and an obstinate dedication to fight everything repressive in the conventional wisdom.
As a footnote to surrealism, let me add that I remained a close friend to Charles de Noailles until the end. Whenever I went to Paris, we had lunch or dinner together. On my last visit, he invited me to the home where he’d first welcomed me fifty years before. This time, however, everything had changed. Marie-Laure was dead, the walls and the shelves stripped of their treasures. Like me Charles had become deaf. The two of us ate along and spoke very little.
I was born at the dawn of the century, and my lifetime often seems to me like an instant. Events in my childhood sometimes seem so recent that I have to make an effort to remember that they happened fifty or sixty years ago. And yet at other times life seems to me very long. The child, or the young man, who did this or that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with me anymore. Until I turned seventy-five, I found old age rather agreeable. It was a tremendous relief to be rid at last of nagging desires; I no longer wanted anything—no more houses by the sea or fancy cars or works of art. I no longer showed myself in bathing suits in public swimming pools, and I traveled less and less. But my life remained active and well balanced; I made my last movie at seventy-seven.
I am an old man, and that’s all there is to it. I’m only happy at home following my daily routine: wake up, have a cup of coffee, exercise for half an hour, wash, have a second cup of coffee, eat something, walk around the block, wait until noon. My eyes are weak, and I need a magnifying glass and a special light in order to read. My deafness keeps me from listening to music, so I wait, I think, I remember, filled with a desperate impatience and constantly looking at my watch.
Noon’s the sacred moment of the aperitif, which I drink very slowly in my study. After lunch, I doze in my chair until mid-afternoon, and then, from three to five, I read a bit and look at my watch, waiting for six o’clock and my pre-dinner aperitif. Sometimes, I cheat, but only by fifteen minutes or so. Sometimes, too, friends come by to chat. Dinners at seven, with my wife, and then I go to bed.
It’s been four years now since I’ve been to the movies, because of my eyesight, my hearing, and my horror of traffic and crowds. I never watch television. Sometimes an entire week goes by without a visitor, and I feel abandoned.
… For a long time now, I’ve written the names of friends who’ve died in a special book I call The Book of the Dead. I leaf through it from time to time, one name beside the other, in alphabetical order. There are red crosses next to the surrealists, whose most fatal year was 1977-78 when Man Ray, Calder, Max Ernst and Prevert all died within a few months of one another.
Some of my friends are upset about this book—dreading, no doubt, the day they will be in it. I try to tell them if helps me remember certain people who’d otherwise cease to exist.
The thought of death has been familiar to me for a long time. From the time that skeletons were carried through the streets of Calanda during Holy Week procession, death had been an integral part of my life. I’ve never wished to forget or deny it, but there’s not much to say about it when you’re an atheist. When all is said and done, there’s nothing, nothing but decay and the sweetish smell of eternity. (Perhaps I’ll be cremated so I can skip all that) Yet I can’t help wonder how death will come, when it does.
… Sometimes I think, the quicker, the better—like the death of my friend Max Aub, who died all of a sudden during a card game. But most of the time I prefer a slower death, one that’s expected, that will let me revisit my life for a last goodbye. Whenever I leave a place now, a place where I’ve lived and worked, which has become a part of me—I stop for a moment to say adieu. I say aloud. “I’ve had so many happy moments here, and without you my life would’ve been so different. Now I’m going away and I’ll never see you again, but you’ll go on without me.” I say goodbye to everything—to the mountains, the streams, the trees, even the frogs. And, of course, irony would have it that I often return to a place I’ve already bid goodbye, but it doesn’t matter. When I leave, I just say goodbye once again.
I’d like to die knowing that this time I’m not going to come back. When people ask me why I don’t travel more, I tell them: Because I’m afraid of death. Of course, they all hasten to assure me that there’s no more chance of my dying abroad then at home, so I explain that it’s not a fear of death in general. Dying itself doesn’t matter to me, but not while I’m on the road. I don’t want to die in a hotel room with my bags open and papers lying all over the place.
On the other hand, an even more horrible death is one that’s kept at bay by the miracles of modern medicine, a death that never ends. In the name of Hippocrates, doctors have invented the most exquisite form of torture ever known to man: survival. If they would only let us die when the moments comes, and help us to go more easily! Respect for human life becomes absurd when it leads to unlimited suffering, not only for the one who’s dying but for those he leaves behind
As I drift towards my last sigh I often imagine a final joke. I convoke around my deathbed my friends who are confirmed atheists, as am I. Then a priest, whom I have summoned, arrives; and to the horror of my friends I make a confession, ask for absolution for my sins, and receive unction. After which I turn over on my side and expire.
But will I have the strength to joke at that moment?
Only one regret. I hate to leave while there’s so much going on. It’s like quitting in the middle of a serial. I doubt there was so much curiosity about the world after death in the past, since in those days the world didn’t change quite so rapidly or so much. Frankly, despite my horror of the press, I’d live to rise from the grave every ten years or so and go buy a few newspapers. Ghostly pale, sliding silently along the walls, my papers under my arm, I’d return to the cemetery and read all about the disasters in the world before falling back to sleep, safe and secure in my tomb.
Luis Buñuel talks about the 1st film he saw & the 1st film he made
Un cincéaste de notre temps: Luis Buñuel (with english subtitles)
Alejandro Jodorowsky on Luis Buñuel at The British Library
Festival de Venise : interview de Luis Bunuel
from Film Comment
Buñuel had his favorites among actors: Michel Piccoli, Julien Bertheau, Delphine Seyrig and Jeanne Moreau. In Spain, he cited Francisco Rabal, but not Fernando Rey, who was widely seen as the director’s alter-ego in several films. Here, in turn, is what some of his collaborators remember about Buñuel:
CATHERINE DENEUVE: Buñuel didn’t like to talk too much. It would physically tire him. But we had a mute understanding. Shooting Tristana went better than Belle de Jour, because there was a nicer producer, but mostly because Buñuel himself was very happy about shooting in Spain for the first time since Viridiana. He was euphoric. He had a wonderful sense of humor. One thing he stressed was, ‘Above all, no psychology!’ I accepted it wholeheartedly, especially because it came from him.
JEANNE MOREAU: I consider him my Spanish father, and I called him that. We met simply because of box-office considerations: he didn’t know what actress he wanted for Le journal d’une femme de chambre, and the producers offered me. We met in an apartment in St. Tropez for lunch and enjoyed so much being together that we also had dinner. He was a fantastic person. He was the only director I know who never threw away a shot. He had the film in his mind. When he said “action” and “cut,” you knew that what was in between the two would be printed.
He worked with me mostly on physical movement. We didn’t speak too much about the character. But, as in life, sometimes you express yourself better and end up saying more by talking about something else.
FRANCO NERO: Buñuel always told me that the best thing was not to show things to the audience, but instead to trigger their imagination. In Tristana, there was a scene with Catherine Deneuve nude at the window, looking at the boy in the square who was staring at her, hoping to catch a glimpse of her naked body. The camera stayed on her face. It was sexy, without being explicit.
I think all geniuses are like children. The Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli said, “In every man hides the soul of a child—when it abandons him, he becomes nothing.” One morning Buñuel came to the set and couldn’t find his bag. The whole crew was looking for it and he refused to start working before it was found. He kept wailing, “My bag! My bag!” Just like a little boy. Finally, it was found and he grabbed it and withdrew into a corner, hiding. I followed him and saw that he took out a ham sandwich and started eating. He simply wanted to eat. When he saw me, he jumped and said, “What are you doing? Please don’t tell anybody. I’m hungry. . . If they see me, it will be a bad example, because they will all want to eat. But I’m hungry. . . ”
Another day—he said he was deaf, but I doubt it—he stopped a man who was dumb and said to him, “You’re dumb? I’m deaf!” and laughed about it for half an hour.
BULLE OGIER: Actors are instruments to convey the director’s ideas—which is why I find all my roles difficult: I can’t betray the director. For Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, however, I didn’t have all that much to do. Buñuel loved actors as human beings and treated them nicely, but was completely indifferent to them as actors—who played what, who I was. . . What mattered to him was that the film reflect the script, because he always wanted to be a writer. You had to render exactly what he wrote. You couldn’t make any departures.
MICHEL PICCOLI: He never liked to give psychological explanations or discuss motivation. He was very polite and lovable, very attentive to people, and he had a great sense of humor. And a terribly perceptive eye. If you made a mistake or told an ugly joke or hurt somebody, he would judge you immediately. Otherwise, he was very sweet—but with the calm that accompanies great authority.
He was very kind with actors and suggested things gently, and they knew he was right. They knew he had no hesitation about his work, no doubt at all. In one scene in Belle de Jour, Georges Marchal had to go down the staircase, in a close-up, and you imagined him masturbating. It wasn’t easy. Buñuel told him, “Think of the setting sun.” It was wonderful: at the same time that he gave no explanation—he simply told him to go down—he also told the actor he thought of him as a sun.
He was severe in life and very hard to please. He was a great Spanish bourgeois by birth, and very well organized. He was very good about working within the budget, because when he was young, he had experienced economic hardship, especially in the U.S. He lived very modestly.
We had great fun. He used to joke like a kid, always telling the same jokes. He never wrote letters, except when there were very precise reasons for it. Each time, he signed, “Disrespectfully yours.” For my part, I used to taunt him that it was Catherine Deneuve and I who made him. I said, “For years, nobody saw your films , except intellectuals, until we did Belle de Jour.” And he’d become very animated and agree and say, “You’re right, thank you.” We laughed and joked all the time. His laughter came out of a terrible anguish, but was non-stop.
He was once interviewed in Spain by French TV, which sent a crew with two trucks. He told them, “I could make a film with what it cost you to bring all this here.” He told them he preferred to do the interview in Toledo. They asked him if he liked that town especially and he answered, “No. I detest it. It’s full of flies.” Then they asked him if in El, he was influenced by Sade. He said no. The interviewer insisted: “In the movie, the man sews up the woman’s vagina.” Buñuel responded, “When your wife betrays you, you get drunk. I simply sew her up. There’s nothing sadistic about it.”
He respected others. When De Richaux died, I went on the radio to talk about him. I asked him if he wanted to do the same, and he said, “No. I never speak about dead friends. I just give stars as you would a restaurant: Sadoul, 5 stars. De Richaux, 4.”
When we were shooting Belle de Jour, I posed for some publicity photos for Lui and Buñuel saw them and said, “You call this an actor? It’s a puppet! The great actor Piccoli doing a thing like that! What a horror!” He folded the magazine under his arm and kept it throughout the shoot, making frequent references to it. I loved him.
13 of Luis Bunuel’s 35 films
‘There are a couple of things that make Nazarín special for me. One is the fact – and this may be very chauvinistic – that Buñuel’s best period is the Mexican period. I think that the early, surrealist period is sort of non-linear, full of free creation and he’s very much under the influence of Dalí and the Surrealist group. But the moment he goes to Mexico, he starts to really become more of a storyteller, and less of an image-maker. He finds himself coming into his own there, and his narrative becomes much more sophisticated. His French period, which would be the late period in his life, is a mixture of both: he goes back to being, for my taste, too free. And the other thing that I love is that Nazarín is about what it means to be solidary, or charitable, which are two different things. And I think as a Roman Catholic – or lapsed Catholic! – Nazarín is especially important for me because it really talks about the difference between an institutionalised, higher-than-thou charity, and the final moment in the movie, which is pure solidarity. It’s a human act, not an act of hifallutin’ charity. If you made Nazarín right now,” he adds, as a salutary afterthought, “probably the reviews would be less favourable, because people now expect screenplays to explain characters, not to show them. But it’s a paradigm I think of what is a great screenplay, which is, you let the character be defined by his actions. Reviews would say right now, `Although the movie is interesting, Buñuel never hints at what makes Nazarín the the way he is, and all the characters are all-action.’ We have been contaminated by this way of screenplay writing in America, and now it’s extended throughout the world.’ — Guillermo del Toro
La fièvre monte à El Pao (1959)
‘Aroused citizens assassinate an unpopular Caribbean despot, then two men vie for his gorgeous widow Ines. Ojeda is a steamy, isolated island, the penal colony for an oppressive dictatorship. A reactionary seizes the murdered governor’s post, and rushes to eliminate his romantic rival, an idealistic underling. The bureaucrat Vazquez hopes to marshal the angry residents of the capitol, El Pao, plus the many political prisoners, to oust Governor Gual. French actor Gerard Philipe died during the filming. This was his last film and scenes had to be shot using a double, or rewritten to complete the picture.’ — collaged
The Young One (1960)
‘Spanish-Mexican director Luis Buñuel’s second and last English-language film, La Joven, is generally perceived as a pallid and failed film, and one might well agree that, for the most part, it does seem to be an atypical Buñuel product, having none of his signature surrealist-based flourishes. Perhaps, given the film’s various subject matters—racism, pedophilia, false claims of rape, and moral lassitude—all played out on a small Carolina island in the American south, that he need present no more of an exaggerated or unsettling world view. The marvel of this small film—and the film is, to my way of thinking, far superior to how it was seen by the critics and audiences of its day—is that it presents these issues in the US context in a way that few other films of its day could manage. True, during the shooting of the film in 1960, a film with similar concerns, Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones appeared. But Kramer’s work, although notable for pairing (quite literally with handcuffs) a racist (Tony Curtis) and a Black man (Sidney Poitier), was also far more in the Hollywood mode, declaring its liberal sentiments on its sleeve. Buñuel’s work is far more nuanced and troubling for that very reason. The director and film, although they clearly have a strong point of view, present their various characters with great subtlety, refusing to outright judge them.’ — Douglas Messerli
‘A great many directors, when asked to name their favourite film-maker, invoke the name of Luis Buñuel. It isn’t surprising, since he was undoubtedly a genius who had the invaluable capacity to offend and delight at the same time. You could choose any of a dozen of his films as one of the best 100. Viridiana is my choice, since it caused the maximum annoyance to people one is quite glad to see offended. It was made in Spain in 1960 after Franco had told his minister of culture to invite the country’s leading film-maker back from exile in Mexico to make whatever film he liked. But once he completed it, Buñuel sensibly decamped, deliberately leaving a few out-takes behind to be instantly burned by the authorities. People have said that Buñuel was first and foremost a Spaniard and then a surrealist, and it is no accident that the ending of Viridiana resembles that of L’Age d’Or, his great surrealist masterpiece made 30 years previously. But there’s a despair about this film which wasn’t in that earlier work. “I should like”, he once famously said, “to make even the most ordinary spectator feel that he is not living in the best of all possible worlds”. The forces of darkness, he suggests, await us all. The perfect candidate for Prozac then. But then we would never have had Viridiana, one of the great feelbad movies of all time.’ –– Derek Malcom
The Exterminating Angel (1962)
‘Luis Buñuel’s ferociously brilliant The Exterminating Angel (1962) is one of his most provocative and unforgettable works. In it we watch a trivial breach of etiquette transform into the destruction of civilization. Not only does this story undermine our confidence in our social institutions but it challenges our powers of cognition and perception, which are shown to be easily distorted by unreliable narratives. Perhaps most threatening, despite the emotional distance from the characters that Buñuel’s satiric vision grants us, we are ultimately forced to see that we in the audience are also objects of his attack. The plot is easy to summarize, though the characters’ motivations remain mysterious. Buñuel describes it as “the story of a group of friends who have dinner together after seeing a play, but when they go into the living room after dinner, they find that for some inexplicable reason they can’t leave.” For equally inexplicable reasons, after preparing dinner for the guests, all but one of the servants feel compelled to flee the mansion. Trapped in the living room, the guests soon begin to panic. The narrative places us in the same position as the guests, puzzling over why they can’t leave, how they might escape, and what it all means. Buñuel made this daring film at the end of his eighteen years in Mexico, and it was his only work from that period on which he had complete artistic freedom.’ — Marsha Kinder
The Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)
‘The Diary of a Chambermaid was a crucial turning point in Luis Buñuel’s career because it would officially usher in the French period of the director’s later years. In 1963, Buñuel met producer Serge Silberman in Spain and together they decided on an adaptation of Octave Mirbeau’s Jounral d’une femme de chamber, which Buñuel had read several times and Jean Renoir had previously directed less famously in 1946. Buñuel wanted to shoot the film in Mexico with the great Silvia Pinal in the lead but Silberman refused, wanting the director to make the film for him in France. At Cannes, Buñuel met screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, with whom he would work almost exclusively for the rest of his life, and with the help of Louis Malle, Buñuel met and subsequently cast the great Jeanne Moreau as the Parisian chambermaid who arrives at a country estate in provincial France and is overwhelmed by one sexual scandal after another. Buñuel once said, “Sexual perversion repulses me, but I can be attracted to it intellectually.” Diary of a Chambermaid features endless images of characters entertaining each other’s foot fetishes. Buñuel has acknowledged that this so-called fetish of his seems to transplant itself from his mind and into his films almost entirely subconsciously. If Buñuel refuses to ponder the irrational implications of these images in Diary of a Chambermaid, it’s probably because the film is Buñuel’s most realist expression of his life-long fixation with ribbing bourgeois orders.’ — Slant Magazine
Simon of the Desert (1965)
‘Simon of the Desert (1965) was the last film Buñuel made in Mexico, the last one in which he used Mexican actors, and most significantly the last one on which he worked with the great Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. Buñuel got all kinds of sharp, ironic effects from glossy color photography in the six films, five French and one Spanish, he went on to direct before he died, but there is a purity and grace in Figueroa’s images that is unequaled in Buñuel’s body of work. Writing enthusiastically of Simon of the Desert, Pauline Kael suggests Buñuel’s movies “have a thinner texture that begins to become a new kind of integrity, and they affect us as fables.” She is thinking of his indifference to the large emotions directors usually want their actors to go for, but we could also consider Figueroa’s contribution to this effect. His images are as much about the desert as about Simon, and we can almost see the thinness of the air. The movie is incomplete because the producer, Gustavo Alatriste, ran out of money after five reels. If the ending—the sudden flight from the medieval desert to 1960s New York—looks hasty and improvised, this is because it was hasty and improvised. It has an interesting kick to it, though. We watch furiously shaking bodies on a densely crowded dance floor, an image of life as sheer convulsion, and the devil says this is the last dance of all. It is called “Radioactive Flesh.” The idea that hell is rock and roll, or vice versa, is pretty banal; Kael remarks that “what is presented to us as a vision of a mad, decaying world in its final orgy looks like a nice little platter party.” But Simon is not dancing, or even particularly preoccupied with the dance. He has a fringe now instead of his wild and woolly hair, a black polo-neck sweater, and a pipe. He looks like a man disguised as a French intellectual, a fraud now rather than a saintly fool—and it’s clear that the modern difficulty for the hermit is finding anything resembling moral solitude in a crowd. In comparison, a literal pillar in the desert looks like a dusty luxury.’ –– Michael Wood
Belle de Jour (1967)
‘There are the films we see – and then there are the films we think we see. The tale of a bored Parisian housewife (Catherine Deneuve) who spends her afternoons working in a brothel, Belle de jour (1967) was the greatest international success of its director, Luis Buñuel. It is also, in a way that no other film quite matches, not one movie but two. An avant-garde experiment and a glossy commercial product, a piece of Surrealist erotica and a high-toned bourgeois comedy of manners, an invitation to sensual abandon and a slyly moralistic cautionary tale. It is also – most crucially – the film we are actually watching and the one we are running (surreptitiously, perhaps) inside our own heads. In terms of explicit sexual activity, there is little in Belle de jour we might not see in a Doris Day comedy from the same year. Yet audiences, then as now, tend to come out of the film feeling we have just had a front-row seat at an orgy. Buñuel, like the veteran Surrealist he was, excels at making us see things we are not shown and imagine things we do not see. Nowhere does this art flower more fully than in Belle de jour. “Belle de Jour is a masterpiece”, writes Elliot Stein, “the many-faceted and perfect Golden Bowl that crowns a lifetime’s work”. An atypical masterpiece, perhaps, in its extreme visual refinement. Not qualities that even his most fervent admirers expect from Buñuel, the film’s polished mise en scène and lustrous (almost Sirkian) use of colour are the antithesis of his usual image as a cinematic slob.’ — David Melville
Catherine Deneuve interview on Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1995)
The Milky Way (1969)
‘The Milky Way is unique in Buñuel’s filmography. Two contemporary pilgrims start out, as pilgrims have done since the Middle Ages, on the road from the Rue Saint-Jacques, in Paris, to Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, Spain. It is the traditional picaresque format of the down-and-out surviving as road bums. It is also the even more traditional tale of the knight-errant and his squire in search of faith and honor. Buñuel blends these traditions into a sort of filmic space-time continuum. The pilgrims are contemporary. But time and space accompany them in a perpetual present and a simultaneous geography. The protagonists of heresy and orthodoxy act out their beliefs in ancient Palestine, in early medieval Europe, in the Age of Reason, and in today’s inns and swank restaurants, and on its superhighways. The Holy Virgin, her son Jesus and Christ’s kid brothers, the Marquis de Sade, the Jansenist dueling the Jesuit, Satan himself (or is it Death?) dressed as a rock star, an impertinent theological -maître d’ and his waiters, a bleeding child by the wayside, a wildly stiff schoolmarm and her robotic little pupils reciting anathemas, the pope facing a firing squad, the Whore of Babylon waylaying travelers, sententious bishops and fugitive mad priests—this fantastic cast of characters, in itself a tongue-and-cheek parody of Hollywood’s “cast of thousands,” visually acts out, before our very eyes, the arid abstractions of Christian heresy. Was there ever such a thing as the Holy Trinity? Was Christ God, man, and Holy Ghost simultaneously, in sequence, or was he only, at all times, God the Father masquerading as a mortal being, so as to be recognized? Was Jesus only the human body of a Divine Ghost? Were his sufferings mere appearances? If he suffered, was he a god? If he was a god, how could he suffer? Was Christ simply a particle of God’s mind? Are we allowed to distinguish between the acts of Jesus the man and the words of Christ the god (as the blind men in the film fail to do)? Was Christ really two men, one born of God the Father, the other of Mary the Mother? Did Mary conceive the way light passes through a pane of glass? Did Jesus have kid brothers?’ — Carlos Fuentes
‘In terms of storytelling Tristana is as straightforward as they come. Deneuve plays the title character, a beautiful orphan adopted by a nobleman called Don Lope Garrido (the larger than life Fernando Rey). Captivated by his beauty and innocence, Don Lope falls for his daughter and makes her his wife, in practical if not legal or religious terms. As if the arrival of sex opened a new world for her, Tristana begins to see outside the confines of her sad life and begins an affair with an artist by the name of Horacio (a stunning Franco Nero). The film shares themes with one of his previous works, Viridiana, which was also written by Pérez Galdós and which makes us ponder on why the director had such a preference for telling old fashioned melodramas when it came to adapting literary works. Did he feel there was something subversive in having classic-but-rarely-groundbreaking literature be captured on film? Were there layers of hidden text that he inserted but that which we’ve failed to notice? Stories about the making of Tristana, reveal that in fact the director was aware that everything might mean something and knew that some of these things might be impossible for us as audience members to detect and it’s in his use of twisted humor that we remember why he’s such a highly regarded filmmaker.’ — Pop Matters
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
‘Luis Buñuel’s surreal masterpiece from 1972, co-written with Jean-Claude Carrière, is stranger and more sensual than ever. The weirdness under the conventions throbs even more insistently and indiscreetly, now that those conventions themselves are historically distant. We can see with hindsight how Buñuel’s subversion absorbed the various modish forms of agitprop and radical chic, and subverted those as well. The action revolves around some half-a-dozen well-to-do metropolitan sophisticates who are forever attempting to meet up for dinner parties and elegant soirees only to find the event ruined by an absent host, or some mysterious misunderstanding, or bizarre turn of events, and then one will awake to find it all to be a dream, yet the distinction between dream and waking does not become any clearer. The surrealist and anthropologist in Buñuel was fascinated by the ritual of the dinner party: without a host, this social event resembles humanity frantically inventing intricate rules for itself in the absence of God. It is still superbly disturbing when everyone assembles around a dinner table in an unfamiliar house and then, when one wall suddenly moves away, they discover themselves to be on stage in a blaze of unnatural light, inspected by an auditorium full of frowning theatregoers. “I don’t know my lines,” mutters Sénéchal (Jean-Pierre Cassel) to himself in a cold sweat. An exotic and brilliant hothouse flower of a film.’ — The Guardian
The Phantom of Liberty (1974)
‘Decades after its release, Buñuel’s brilliantly anti-narrative film Le Fantôme de la liberté (The Phantom of Liberty, 1974) not only seems to anticipate many of our current obsessions and human foibles, but stands out as much more than a Surrealistic satire or comedy; it is in many ways a politically charged manifesto that not only overthrows narrative as we know it but also seems almost frighteningly prescient in it’s treatment of the routine celebrity of terrorists and mass murderers and, more importantly, in the way it anticipates the humankind’s own destruction of the world through our own imbecilic and suicidal pollution of the earth. In many respects, The Phantom of Liberty plays as if it was made for 21st century audiences. Buñuel delighted in repeatedly saying that he made the film in collaboration with Karl Marx (the title refers to the first line of the Communist Manifesto); but the title is also a personal nod to a line spoken in Buñuel’s La Voie lactée (The Milky Way, 1969): “Freewill is nothing more than a simple whim! In any circumstance, I feel that my thoughts and my will are not in my power! And my liberty is only a phantom!” Buñuel firmly believed that chance governs our lives, and as much as they could, Buñuel and his screenwriting companion Jean-Claude Carrière tried to invite chance at every opportunity into the writing of The Phantom of Liberty.’ — Audrey Foster
the entire film
That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)
‘As That Obscure Object of Desire nears its conclusion, there is an image that reminds us of the relationship between Buñuel and his narrator. Mathieu, with Conchita at his side, is drawn to a Paris shop window to watch a woman mend a torn dress. Buñuel cuts to a close-up of the lace, bloodied and stretched across an embroidery hoop, as stitch after stitch narrows the gaping hole. He holds the shot until no traces of the tear remain. In his autobiography, Buñuel speaks of being unexplainably touched by this strange and seemingly hopeful vision. This was the final shot on the shooting schedule, hence the final shot of the filmmaker’s illustrious career. Surely, at one level this vision of closure is a statement by the artist about his art, about his lifelong commitment to “enshrining” the beauties his camera can discover. But it is not the last shot of the film. After the lace is mended, Mathieu and Conchita walk on. Suddenly, in the foreground of the frame, a terrorist sets off a bomb. Flames engulf the screen, blocking the couple from our view. Are they consumed in this apocalypse? If they survive, do they move on to new, ever crueler, cycles of violence, or will their desires—at last—be satisfied? Buñuel offers no answers. As Buñuel films these flames, they are beautiful, too. The shot, however, is a vision of destruction, not of redemption. But it too makes a statement. The world whose destruction he is envisioning is the world of his own creation. In Buñuel’s art, what is principled, and what is perverse, cannot be separated. Buñuel is a moralist. He is also a terrorist.’ — William Rothman
p.s. Hey. ** Amphibiouspeter, Hi. Oh, cool, C. Simon is amazing. Do fully and thoroughly enjoy Lisbon. I sure liked being there. I think I could definitely make a case for Randy Newman as the greatest songwriter, and easily as the most misunderstood or mischaracterised. Thanks, man. Yeah, like I said, have a really good time. ** David Ehrenstein, Thank you, D. Uh, hm, I’m stumped so far on what that Nouveau Roman book would be, and I thought I knew my stuff. I’ll try to find out. Oh, wait, Jeff J figured it out. And it’s a book I don’t know. But certainly will. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. That makes sense re: NYC, and I would second you, having lived there. Curious to read your piece on the female rappers. And your new review. Everyone, Steve Erickson weighs in on French director Marie Voignier’s documentary TINSELWOOD, which sounds very interesting, so check out his review. I know her name, but I don’t believe I’ve seen her work. But, yes, she’s known here at least to some degree. No, I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen re: journalism I’ve written, at least that I can remember anyway. I wouldn’t let that slow you down. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Cool, thanks a lot. Today’s your day! Oh, yes, photos: when a place you’ve lived in empties out, the beauty and resonance is really intense. Oh, uh, it’s clear that the sales agency thinks very differently than Zac and I do. It’s going to take some getting used to. The poster is a go. They rejected our logline and will use the one they wrote which is, honestly, very dumb, instead. We made the new trailer. Less ‘conceptual’ but still very unusual and even better, I think. Our producer loves it. The woman half of the sales agency bosses loves it. But the other male half, who seems to be the uptight one, thinks it’s too ‘not normal’. He’s letting us use it for now for the festival because we’re at the deadline, but he wants us to make a ‘normal’ trailer. The hope is that our trailer will be liked enough that he’ll give in. Bleah. All that was my yesterday. Well, I hope that while we’re disconnected due to internet absence everything goes really, really well with you, and I’ll be very happy to get to catch up with you as soon as you’re back. Take care! ** Bernard, Howdy, B. Thanks about the post, cool. Awesome thoughts. Oh, okay, well then let me know when the time is right and I’ll get that to you, no problem at all. I haven’t ever look at ‘Eureka’ no. Huh, I certainly will. If you have time and everything for making blog Days, obviously I will be way chuffed and very helped out. Good question about the Golden Boys, i.e., the erections thing. I think it’s okay. I’ve generally tried to avoid erections in the escort/slave posts out of knee-jerk panic, but there have been some in those posts, and nothing bad happened. I think as long as there isn’t XXX penetration, it should be fine. Oh, yeah, the Earl Jackson book is good. He has a really good mind. He was at the New Narrative conference in Berkeley, hanging out and on a couple of panels. Did you meet him? The last time this Bunuel Day ran here it had a section devoted to two video lectures by you, but those youtube videos are dead/gone now, so I had to ‘X’ that section sadly. ** Bill, Hi. Awesome. Yes, I have had Dettmer’s work on show here before at least once. I think that since the powers-that-be have at least temporarily green lit our trailer, I should be able to make it public pretty soon. ** Brendan, Hi, man. Thanks a lot! Yeah, I love Artschwager. And since Gagosian picked up his oeuvre, I’ve been his stuff out and about again, which is very nice. Okay, I’ll definitely see ‘The Florida Project’. I think it’s out in theaters here? If so, maybe today even. Thanks. And ‘The Phantom Thread’ Yes, we have two film critics on the blog here, Mr. Ehrenstein and Mr. Erickson, who are on opposing ends of the opinions about it. Have a swell weekend! ** Jamie, Hi, Jumpy! I’m pretty good. Yes, as someone else already pointed out, Frances Stark did as series of paintings that were page by page copies of a book by Svenious, and one of the images was of one of those paintings. I’m glad you like the books. Yeah, my friend was blonde, pretty, petite. I think she was in most of the episodes. Friday was a ton of film work and a bunch of contentious but whatever back and forth with the sales agents for the film. I think I’m film-free for the weekend at least. How was the Writing Gang? Sounds dreamy. Way dreamy. This weekend I need to get back to work on the mysterious assigned project which has been very neglected due to the film stuff, so I guess I’ll be forcing myself to try to do that and then hopefully doing that. Otherwise, I don’t know. I sure would like to see a movie. May your weekend be like a compelling and charismatic non-normal trailer for the film of the rest of your experimental life. Injera love, Dennis. ** Kyler, Hey. You’re welcome, and thank you. I’m sure I’ve told you or someone here this story before, but, speaking of Jonathan Galassi, way back when when he was still a top dog at Random House, he read and loved my first novella ‘Safe’, and he called me into his office to rave about it and to basically all but guarantee that he would publish the novel I was then working on (‘Closer’). So I wrote ‘Closer’ thinking that it was pretty much a given that he/Random House would publish it. I sent it to him when it was finished, and he really hated it. Which was strange since it was clearly a million times better than ‘Safe’. And then I had to get an agent to send the novel further around, which I eventually did. So there you go. I.e., hang in there. I’s a weird, rough road. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Yeah, nice Latham piece, no? And kind of an unusual one for him. Watching Bresson in pain and on pain killers is not an approach I would have recommended in advance, ha ha, but awesome that the profundity snuck through. Congrats on the instagram page birth. Sure do like that logo. ** Misanthrope, Goodness, what phobia has the blog unearthed in you now. You have a healthy archive of phobias, no, Mr. Wines? Well, as a non-rememberer of dreams, I can only guess that they’re weird. Dreams I hear about seem weird, for sure. I’ve been taking melatonin nightly for years, so it’s not a general magic gateway to dream recollection, I guess. ** Jeff J, Howdy. Thanks, man. Yeah, Greg Tate, such a good writer. And thinker. It was a boon back when he was writing for the Village Voice frequently. Long time ago now. I don’t know his band, no. I’ll hunt down some sounds. Good about Sunday, and, yeah, let’s sort a time on FB today or something. ** H, Hi. Thanks. Festival preparations are hot and heavy right now. I don’t know Arne Sucksdorff’s work at all. Huh. I will doing a serious search about his work in any free time I get today. Thank you a lot for that alert/share. Yes, I saw your email. I’d like to help. I’m just really swamped these last days/week, but I’m hoping I’ll get at least a little non-committed time ultra-soon. Sorry not to have responded sooner. ** Okay. I decided to bring back the above post devoted to the later works of the awesome Luis Bunuel, and if you spend time with it, you will have a rich time, guaranteed. See you on Monday.