to wealthy Spanish parents at the turn of the previous century, Surrealist
filmmaker Luis Buñuel, who later rebelled against his upbringing, left a legacy
of shocking and always provocative films behind.
Labeled an anarchist by some and a socialist by himself when it served
his purpose, Buñuel also considered himself to be a devout atheist, often
mocking the rituals of the Catholic Church to its dismay.
Buñuel’s films also portray his disdain for the wealthy set (Belle
De Jour, Tristana, The Exterminating Angel and The
Discreet Charm of the Bourgeois). While the writer-director’s biting wit
and surrealist images won’t appeal to those individuals with conservative
taste, the art he created proves to be as significant as his former compatriot
Salvador Dali’s paintings or Garcia Lorca’s plays.
Moody to extremes, Buñuel was to the Spanish film industry what Fellini
was to the Italian film industry despite Buñuel’s sudden exile from his
homeland during Franco’s regime.
In fact, Buñuel and Fellini had a lot more in common than their mockery
of the Catholic Church and upper classes since both filmmakers evoked images
from their rich dream lives in their works.
Buñuel made an early start on his career when he directed, wrote and produced
the surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou
with Salvador Dali in 1928, the Spanish filmmaker suffered many slumps in his
career, produced numerous unsuccessful films during the time he spent in Mexico
(from the late '40s through the '50s) and he suffered from extreme hearing loss.
In 1961, Buñuel returned to Spain to make the film Viridiana
despite having to work under the scrutiny of Franco’s tight restrictions.
The film was banned in Spain, but it won the Palme d’Or at
Cannes. Following Viridiana,
the filmmaker would go on to direct successful films in Mexico (Exterminating
Angel), France (Belle Du Jour) and
his last film, That Obscure Object of
Desire (1977) would be filmed in both Spain and France.
always obvious in his work, the filmmaker’s films would some times suffer from
editing problems since the director prioritized staying within a budget rather
than covering all of his shots. Fortunately,
he worked with some of the best cinematographers in the business including
Gabriel Figueroa (Exterminating Angel,
Nazarin). Buñuel also had a
fetish for women’s shoes that he emphasized in Viridiana
Seattle Art Museum’s film series features Buñuel classics, rare films from
his exile years in Mexico and his later work when he worked with the legendary
Catherine Deneuve and Fernando Rey. Beginning with the double bill, Un
Chien Andalou and Los Olvidados on
April 6th and ending with his last film That
Obscure Object of Desire on June 8, 2000, the Buñuel Film Series allows
audiences to delve deep into their subconscious and see the stuff of which art
is the series’ schedule and short descriptions on each film.
6: Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog)-1928, Spain, with Los
Olvidados (The Young and the Damned)-
1950, Mexico. Un
Chien Andalou written, produced and directed by Luis Buñuel and
Salvador Dali still has the power to shock audiences. This silent film runs Sixteen minutes in length and is
accompanied by tango music composed by Buñuel who also stars in the film along
with Dalì and an ensemble of Spanish actors.
Most famous for a scene where a man slices a woman’s eyeball with a
razor blade and a decaying donkey corpse that lies on top of a piano, Un
Chien Andalou delves into the irrational life of dreams and leaves a lasting
wrote and directed Los Olvidados during his exile years in Mexico.
Comparable to the American films Rebel
without a Cause or Blackboard Jungle,
Los Olvidados deals with restless and impoverished youth living on
the streets in Mexico City. Graphic
in nature, Buñuel takes a compassionate and unsentimental stare at poverty,
violence and the lack of love in the lives of Mexican youth.
Bunuel won the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his
film, despite outrage from Mexican audiences.
13: El (1953, Mexico),
deals with obsession, desire and paranoia and the plot sounds similar to Claude
Don Francisco (Arturo De Cordova) falls in love with Gloria (Delia Garces)
who he seduces away from her architect suitor (Luis Beristain).
They marry and hell breaks lose after Don Francisco begins imagining that
Gloria is cheating on him. Like
Chabrol’s film, Don Francisco’s madness takes over and in this case, his
wife flees from him only to later find the possessed man living out his years as
a monk at a monastery.
Seattle Art Museum Film Series managed to track down a copy of this rare film
and it is a must-see for true Buñuel aficionados.
20: Illusion Travels by Streetcar
(1953, Mexico) follows a more comical plot that revolves around two Mexican
streetcar drivers’ (Tarrajos and Juanito) adventures as they steal and run a
streetcar after being laid off from their job.
Filled with anarchy and a sense of liberation, the drivers expose two con
women who use Christ as a weapon and mobsters who have illegally stockpile
grain. Illusion Travels by Streetcar stars Carlos Navarro, Domingo Soler
and Fernando Soler.
27: The Criminal Life of Archibaldo De
La Cruz (1955, Mexico). Buñuel
revisits the themes of murder, passion and seduction in this story about
Archibaldo (Ernesto Alonso) a spoiled lad who is left at home with his alluring
governess. As Archi opens his
beloved music box, a stray bullet kills the governess fusing sexual desire and
murder in the young boy’s mind. As
in other Buñuel films, the dichotomy of saint and criminal are explored here in
a true surreal fashion that delves into subconscious wish fulfillment.
Mexico). For a director who claims
to have been an atheist, Bunuel explores religious themes in his adaptation of
Benitez Perez’s story of religious faith and earthly human shortcomings.
Nazarin revolves around the
Christ-like character Father Nazario (Francisco Rabal) and his determination to
spread goodness and charity among the people who would rather pursue their
sexual yearnings than religious pursuits. Like
Christ, the aspiring saint is mocked, beaten and imprisoned, but experiences an
awakening. Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, who later became
famous for shooting Hollywood Westerns, beautifully captures Buñuel’s adapted
11: Viridiana (Spain, 1961).
After Franco’s regime allowed Buñuel to return to Spain to direct his
film Viridiana, fellow Spanish exiles and filmmakers thought that Buñuel
had sold out to Franco. However,
the subversive film that emerged won the Palme d’ Or award at Cannes
also fell under scrutiny in Spain, not to mention censors from the Catholic
church. In this story a young
Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) wishing to join the convent finds herself the object of
her uncles’ desire when she visits him. Overcome
with the girl’s resemblance to his deceased wife, the uncle played by Fernando
Rey comes close to seducing the girl, but instead hangs himself with a child’s
jump rope. Filled with guilt and
remorse, the saintly Viridiana decides to spread charity to the region’s
outcast only to be taken advantage of by their blasphemous deeds.
18: Exterminating Angel (1962,
Mexico). Buñuel revisits his
surrealist roots exposing the bedeviled upper classes in this film about opera
patrons who retire to a salon for dinner and then but for some absurd reason are
unable to cross the thresh hold and exit the room.
The servants leave, but the patrons stay for days where they experience
hunger, a police raid, madness, suicide and the invasion of sheep.
Complete with biting humor, Exterminating
Angel’s plot saves it from the irrational spirit that pervades Un Chien Andalou, but the surreal film still offers no rational
explanation for why the patrons can not leave the house.
Similar to horrifying episodes of The
Twilight Zone television series, Exterminating
Angel serves biting wit along with caviar.
25: Belle De Jour (1966, France). One of Buñuel’s
more popular films, Belle De Jour
stars the luminous and seductive French actress Catherine Deneuve who plays
a bored bourgeois housewife who finds sexual fulfillment through prostitution.
In a role that Ms Deneuve claims opened her up as an actress, she
portrays the most dignified prostitute ever to grace the silver screen.
film’s images provoke beautiful and startling surrealistic moments.
Buñuel successfully blends Severine’s (Deneuve) sadomasochistic dreams
in which her successful husband tortures her with her existence as a bored
housewife. Eventually the director
blurs the boundaries between Severine’s dreams and reality while distorting
the fabric of the film in a flawless fashion.
The question remains why would Severine, a woman who loves her husband,
but remains frigid in her marriage, seek erotic encounters with strangers?
Severine involves herself with a gangster and through a series of events, the
bored housewife and secret prostitute’s worlds collide leaving her husband
Pierre (Jean Sorel) with the decision of staying or leaving his wife.
1: Tristana (1970) based on a
novel by Benitez Perez Galdos, stars Catherine Deneuve as Tristana and Fernando
Rey as Don Lope, her lecherous guardian. The film’s plot revolves around Tristana who recently lost
her mother and has been taken into Don Lope’s care. At first, Don Lope acts fatherly towards the young Tristana
doling out fatherly affections, but soon those affections turn sexual and
Tristana reluctantly loses her innocence and becomes Don Lope’s mistress.
Tristana meets a young artist (Franco Nero) with whom she falls in love and
escapes as a form of rebellion. Several
years later she returns to Don Lope because she has developed a tumor in her
leg. After her leg is amputated so
are the woman’s affections and the tables are turned on Don Lope.
with biting sarcasm and comical moments, especially the scene where Tristana
paces the upstairs on crutches while Don Lope and his compatriots involve
themselves in a game of cards downstairs. The
manic look on Deneuve’s face while she plunders on one leg and crutches while
the men play a calm game of cards proves to be a hysterical moment for whatever
reason. As is the image of Don
Lope’s head swinging from a church bell that appears in Tristana’s
reoccurring nightmares. Tristana
proves to be a dark comedy in its highest form
wonderfully transforms from innocent gamine to a vengeful and crazed woman while
her costar Fernando Rey delivers an equally compelling transformation.
Tristana that features gorgeous photographic images of rural Spain
by Jose F. Aguayo offers an incredibly entertaining film and probably one of Buñuel’s
8: That Obscure Object Of Desire (1977),
Buñuel’s last film ends the film series. Based on the novel La
Femme et Le Pantin by French author Pierre Couys, That
Obscure Object of Desire explores
the dichotomy of women as whores or virgins while featuring two actresses, the
French Carole Bouquet and the Spanish actress Angela Molina playing the same
genteel widower, Mathieu (played by Buñuel’s alter ego, Fernando Rey) falls
in love with his young, sexy maid Conchita.
Unfortunately he can’t tell if Conchita is only toying with his
affections or if she’s playing a wicked game with him.
She says she’s a virgin, but she acts like a whore, Flamenco dancing in
the nude for tourists in Seville or pretending to have sex with her guitarist.
Mathieu turns out to be a weak man controlled by the spell Conchita casts
over him. He can’t stand to be
humiliated by the coquette, but he keeps returning for more punishment only to
have his life explode in front of him in the end.
story is shown through flashbacks as Mathieu shares the story of his
relationship to passengers on a train (including a dwarf psychiatrist).
Buñuel blends the past and the present seamlessly as do the actresses
playing the same character and sometimes during the same scene.
Fernando Rey expertly plays a man who destroys himself while pursuing his
obsessions. Although he plays
similar roles in the films Viridiana
and Tristana, he always manages to capture the pathos and sinister
aspects of his characters while portraying the vulnerability of a fallen man.
And in That Obscure Object Of Desire, Rey plays his role over the backdrop
of Flamenco music and the vibrant culture of Spain’s Andalusian region.
many film directors eventually sell out as their careers take off, Luis Buñuel
took more risks, still shocking audiences with his last film in 1977 as he did
with Un Chien Andalou in 1928.
The Spanish director’s older films have aged well like a good wine and
his later films appear to be the cherry on top of a magnificent career in which
his fans are the lucky recipients.