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Foreign Films > Re:Great Directors - The Films of Luis Bunuel

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message 1: by Phillip (last edited Apr 12, 2013 03:35PM) (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments Re:Great Directors - The Films of Luis Bunuel

Bunuel’s movies are rarely easy to summarize or categorize. His career as director scans several decades and due to the strikingly original nature of his work, many are considered without compare. It would be hard today to find a film that could be confused with Exterminating Angel, L’Age D’or, or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Luis Bunuel is acknowledged (along with Andre Breton and others) as being one of the founders of surrealism – a style that informs all of his work in unique and unpredictable ways. Bunuel’s writings, while not widely read, range from surrealist fragments to insightful expressions of criticism for film and the theater along with his autobiographical musings. Highly influential and yet rarely imitated (successfully), Bunuel’s movies were created in many countries, as the maverick filmmaker seemed to find it difficult to call anywhere his home for very long. Financial support for his work varied from year to year and from place to place, and yet he was able to make strikingly original movies on several continents for comparably far less money than many of his more celebrated peers.

1) Un Chien Andaldou (1929)
Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali proclaim the death of the age of reason in this short film that has earned its rightful exalted place at the dawn of the surrealist movement. One of the most oft-quoted works in the history of film, movie-goers have seen many of the famous images without ever seeing the work as a whole. Eyes are sliced open by razors, flowers and stigmata appear in the hands of angels, and buildings burn to ash with the same detached level of observation. The editing allows the images to move quickly, as if a great host of scenarios were passing on a speeding train of light.

2) Los Olvidados (1950)
Los Olvidados stands as one of the most visionary of all Bunuel films, and is one of several undying masterpieces from his Mexico City period (1940’s – 1950’s). A viewing of the film today reveals its influence on an entire new genre of movies that might include Amores Perros, Ratcatcher, George Washington, Elephant, and City of God.

Translated to English as The Forgotten Ones, Los Olvidados received scathing criticism from the Mexican film industry. Friends close to Bunuel also complained of the portrayal of impoverished youth struggling to create social order and resist a criminal life on the streets of Mexico City. In a style remnant of Italian neo-realism at one turn and, during the nightmare dream sequences, producing effects that recall his surrealist collaborations with Salvador Dali, Bunuel handles the children’s violent deeds while refraining from romanticizing or criticizing his subject. He refuses to answer the questions that accompany the social problems inherent in the movie, which frees the film from unwanted moralizing or the urge to provide a happy ending.

Bunuel is said to have spent a great deal of time in the capital city’s slums befriending the criminal youth, and the result is not unlike Larry Clark’s 1995 shockumentary, Kids. 54 years after its creation, Los Olvidados haunts us with images of children relying on little other than their courage to survive life on the streets.

3) The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (1955)
On the eve of the Mexican Revolution, young Archibaldo de la Cruz believes that he has wished the death of his nanny while contemplating his mother’s music box. Moving to “the present”, the film hovers from flashback to present tense, where Senior de la Cruz is confessing a myriad of imagined crimes, all tenderly illuminated by Augustin Jimenez’ crisp photography and shuffled along with some of Bunuel’s most deftly satirical and comic romps. The music box becomes Sr. de la Cruz’s principal fetish, which accompanies, (and re-kindles) his penchant for murdering women. Will he conquer his obsessions and get the girl? If so, how do we define “get”…check it out and see for yourself.

4) The Exterminating Angel (1962)
This film holds a special place in my heart as it is the confessed all-time favorite film of Don Van Vliet (Captain Beffheart). The cream of Mexican society gather for a meal only to find themselves mysteriously held captive by nothing other than their own inexplicable anxieties in this utterly unique meditation on class and meaninglessness.

5) Belle du Jour (1967)
Catherine Deneuve descends into the subconscious of the upper middle-class and turns idle afternoons into a foray of prostitution and sexual perversion in order to exorcize a few of her formative demons in this hypnotic examination of power and sex. An obvious influence on films like Barbet Schroeder’s MAITRESS, Goddard's 2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER, and many others.

6) The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
In one of Bunuel's later films made in France, a pair of couples sit down to dinner but are consistently baffled and kept from dining. Episode upon episode unfolds. Bunuel's later return to his unique brand of surrealism creates ridiculous situations (i.e. - easting dinner while revolutionary troops march into your living room) that are balanced with care-free walks on a promenade in the country; allowing a taste of the hustle bustle and seeming effortlessness that the privilaged class seems to enjoy. This is a most peculiar absurdist comedy that makes for a nice introduction to Bunuel.


message 2: by Alex DeLarge (last edited Jan 26, 2009 07:39PM) (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Phillip, we're on the same page again! I just queued the new Criterion releases (2/10/09) of EXTERMINATING ANGEL and SIMON OF THE DESERT.


message 3: by Phillip (last edited Jan 27, 2009 08:08AM) (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments is criterion finally getting around to releasing exterminating angel?????!!!!!!

that's great news. i think the eclipse series should do a box set of his mexico city films...those need to be polished up and made available to us hungry film freaks!

i've never seen simon of the desert - scribble something for us when you get around to it, ok?


message 4: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments I've never seen it either so really excited about these Criterion remasters!


message 5: by Steve (new)

Steve | 957 comments The Exterminating Angel -- I preordered it on Amazon. This is consistently in my top 5 of all time (a list that changes frequently). Love love love.

The Discreet Charm disc is really nice -- a beautiful picture.


message 6: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments steve-o, is it cheaper to order them from amazon? as opposed to ordering them directly from criterion, or your local merchants? there are a variety of reasons why i don't support them (amazon).


message 7: by Steve (last edited Feb 11, 2009 09:13AM) (new)

Steve | 957 comments Hmm, well, I got Exterminating Angel from Amazon for 29.99, free shipping. I too like to support local merchants. But the price was right...and I do do my share to help the local shoppes!

Just arrived today. Very excited to see a quality version of one of my favorite movies ever!


message 8: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments i ordered it from the criterion shop. hopefully it will get here in time for my birthday (hey, when you live alone, you have to give yourself presents!).


message 9: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Hope you have a happy birthday!!


message 10: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments thanks, buddy!



i hope so too
:0


message 11: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments i recently rented bunuel's "susana", which was kind of disappointing. it's the story of a "bad girl" who escapes from a reformatory and tries to join a rather traditional family as a helper on their farm. in typical bunuellian fashion, don luis adds the spirit of revolution and the girl turns things upside down on the farm.

it could have been a great film, but it seemed like a lot of the character constructs were fairly standard. i know SOME of the films bunuel made in mexico city were disappointments for the great director. there were times when he wasn't allowed the freedom he needed to create his singular cinematic visions. this one could have been made my just about anyone.


message 12: by Phillip (last edited Apr 09, 2013 02:49PM) (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments TRISTANA - (1970) ... catherine deneuve, fernando rey (bunuel's alter ego) and franco nero star in this twisty love triangle infused with bunuel's eternal spirit of revolution.

deneuve plays the title role - a young woman who, upon the death of her mother, is forced to live with don lope, an aging patriarch who embodies bunuel's contempt for the aristocracy and law and order. he is seen by his friends as an honorable man in many ways until it comes to women. duplicitous and morally corrupt, he seems to exist without conflict when referring to TRISTANA as his daughter and his wife. his moral code insists that men must be free to do as they like, but is sorely challenged when tristana meets a young painter and desires to live freely in the same manner as her benefactor.

this is where the fireworks begin ... and i will refrain from revealing how the story develops or reaches its conclusion ... the story saunters in unpredictable currents.

TRISTANA is vintage bunuel, albeit a bit sombre ... it is set in toledo (spain) and the cloistered, narrow streets do well to reflect both the repressed and twisted catholic morality that bunuel dissects and extinguishes like a rabid dog roaming the streets in search of fresh prey. it explores a lot of territory from his other films - a kind of mash-up of VIRIDIANA, BELLE DU JOUR, and THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE ...

the cohen media group has done a nice job of cleaning up this film and releasing it on dvd - check it out if get the chance.

in spanish, with english subtitles ...


message 13: by Sooz (last edited Apr 12, 2013 01:26PM) (new)

Sooz Phillip: i was thinking of Viridiana -which i just recently watched- when i was reading your post on Tristana. not so much the young women perhaps, as the patriarchs who both have a predisposition for preying on young female relatives or dependents. they are both privileged and protected and able to "live free to do as they like". all well and good if there is no disparity in power. when used to rationalize lecherous behaviour, it's kind of pathetic.

Bunuel doesn't seem to have a lot of hope for humanity's salvation does he? Simon of the Desert -so close to becoming a saint- is seduced off his pillar and told he can never return; the place has a new tenant. Viridiana's goodness is literally eroded away ... it is as if everyone is conspiring to wear her down till she is too weary and disheartened to protect herself against the baseness of the world. that last scene? where she sits down with her cousin and the housekeeper to play cards? whoa. Bunuel has so perfectly captured her capitulation. Belle du Jour - taking a bold and gutsy and brave direction - sheds her sexual repression but she pays for it. and then there is Exterminating Angel ... don't even get me started on Exterminating Angel.

you know i think a lot of movie makers have a hard time really nailing a great ending. true of authors too. for me, Bunuel is a master of the final scene. at least the ones i have seen have had brilliant ....i feel the need to say fucking brilliant .... endings.

i look forward to seeing The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Tristana and whatever else i can get my hands on.


message 14: by Phillip (last edited Apr 12, 2013 03:27PM) (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments hey sooz!

really happy you were able to find and check out VIRIDIANA - i want get that one back in my collection again.

you are so right about endings - and without offering up any spoilers, i want to say that TRISTANA sports as perfect as ending as you could imagine given the story that has unfolded previously.

no, i doubt he has much hope for the salvation of humanity - read MY LAST SIGH if you have some interest in this man, and when you read what he went through over the years, as both an individual and an artist, you will see why he doesn't stoop to offering up much just for the sake of making his audience feel good - he's not interested in a god, or a religion, a people or artists that are inclined to let you off the hook.

and, if you can find them - you might want to add THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE and DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID to your must-see list :)


message 15: by Sooz (last edited Apr 13, 2013 06:26AM) (new)

Sooz i did see Diary of a Chambermaid a few months when i first kicked off this Bunuel exploration. i definitely liked it. a lot. loved the wonderful wonderful Jeanne Moreau ... but overall -for me at least- it falls short of Belle du Jour. but no wonder. i see Belle as a gem - just about perfect exactly as it is. i know both you and Robert have high regard for That Obscure Object, and i really look forward to seeing it.

reading your first post that describes him as a surrealist, i realize how that but me off exploring him earlier. with nothing but Un Chien Andaldou to go on -and that surrealist title- i wasn't particularly motivated to seek out more of his work. i only saw Exterminating Angel because my local library had it. i had a 'i-have-nothing-to-lose' mentality bringing it home. of course i loved it. that and your enthusiasm for the director made me consider checking out more of his work. i think there are a lot of folks here that would really enjoy Bunuel but are put off by the word Surrealist. his work is much more accessible than that word suggests.

my library does have his book Last Sigh. ("i'll try it", she says with that i-have-nothing-to-lose mentality.) a movie called Little Ashes also pops up when i search his name. the brief description says it is an exploration of the relationship between Lorca, Dali and Bunuel. do you know of it??


message 16: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments i don't know LITTLE ASHES ... never heard of it.

thank you for explaining your apprehension - given my post and the use of the word surrealist. i'm a fan of the genre - the literature and films, etc - so for me, it's something that makes my ears prick up. i think that element is in all of bunuel's work, but yeah, not the way you might think ... i mean, the idea that a group of people could enter someone's home and not be able to leave is ... dreamlike? all of bunuel's best work accesses the unconscious and uses it - but as you said when reviewing BELLE DU JOUR, he doesn't use it in a clinical way, but the understanding of freud and jung help you to see the way bunuel operates.


message 17: by Julie (new)

Julie (brontesister) | 908 comments Sooz wrote: "i did see Diary of a Chambermaid a few months when i first kicked off this Bunuel exploration. i definitely liked it. a lot. loved the wonderful wonderful Jeanne Moreau ... but overall -for me a..."

All I remember hearing about LITTLE ASHES is that Robert Pattinson plays Dali. I haven't seen it.


message 18: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments scary ... but he did all right with that role in COSMOPOLIS ... was better than i imagine he would be. hard to imagine him as dali though.


message 19: by Sooz (new)

Sooz you know i think it's worth finding out. i will let you know my reactions to it. i wonder who plays the other two ... mmmm ..

as our number one Bunuel fan ...Phillip that would be you .... ;)
who would you pick to play Bunuel?


message 20: by Sooz (new)

Sooz Phillip wrote: "i don't know LITTLE ASHES ... never heard of it.

thank you for explaining your apprehension - given my post and the use of the word surrealist. i'm a fan of the genre - the literature and films, ..."


so can you give me an example of other directors that you would call surreal? heck, i hate to think i might be missing out on another Bunuel just because i have this impression that surreal means slicing open an eye ... or ... ants coming out of the palm of a hand!

it seems a little ironic that Un Chien Andaldou which as you say is ... "One of the most oft-quoted works in the history of film, movie-goers have seen many of the famous images without ever seeing the work as a whole," may also be the reason his other works aren't better known.

Julie ... have you seen and of Bunuel's films? either way, what is your impression of him?


message 21: by Phillip (last edited Apr 14, 2013 05:21PM) (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments Sooz wrote: "you know i think it's worth finding out. i will let you know my reactions to it. i wonder who plays the other two ... mmmm ..

as our number one Bunuel fan ...Phillip that would be you .... ;)... who would you pick to play bunuel?"



that's hard to say ... maybe alfred molina ... maybe bardem ... i would wait for a few years though - let him get a bit more maturity and age. those guys can post real depth of character ... i think either of them could handle it. it certainly wouldn't be some 20-something pretty boy, although bunuel was quite striking when he was young.


message 22: by Julie (new)

Julie (brontesister) | 908 comments Sooz wrote: "Phillip wrote: "i don't know LITTLE ASHES ... never heard of it.

thank you for explaining your apprehension - given my post and the use of the word surrealist. i'm a fan of the genre - the litera..."

I really liked THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL--so wickedly absurd.

I recently watched DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (big Jeanne Moreau fan), thought Moreau was excellent but found the content difficult to digest (re: the murder).

I saw BELLE DU JOUR many years ago and didn't particularly care for it, but maybe I should give it another try.

I also saw THE DISCREET CHARM/BOURGEOISIE many years ago and thought it very fine (I'm a sucker for anything dark and absurd!).



message 23: by Julie (new)

Julie (brontesister) | 908 comments Phillip wrote: "scary ... but he did all right with that role in COSMOPOLIS ... was better than i imagine he would be. hard to imagine him as dali though."

The film is about Dali, Lorca, and Bunel's friendship at university in 1922 Madrid: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1104083/.

I liked Pattinson in COSMOPOLIS and in REMEMBER ME. He wasn't bad in BEL AMI either.


message 24: by Robert (new)

Robert Beveridge (xterminal) Sooz wrote: "so can you give me an example of other directors that you would call surreal?"

David Lynch is the most obvious choice, if only because of his worldwide fame. Mid-sixties Teshigahara. Guy Maddin, especially his short films. Cronenberg's early stuff, before he got so completely immersed in body horror (actually, I don't think the two are mutually exclusive--there's a lot of stuff one might describe as surreal in, e.g., Existenz. Especially the gas station scenes). Chris Cunningham. Shozin Fukui and any number of directors who've been influenced by him (though not many of them are any good--Hiroki Yamaguchi is a HUGE exception to the rule).

Stretching the definition a bit, Minoru Kawasaki, Hollis Frampton, the more psychedelic works of Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage.

oh, for the love of god, how did I almost hit post on this without mentioning Gyorgy Palfi and Cristi Puiu? From the strictest definition of surrealism, going off Breton's manifesto, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu may be the most surreal film ever made.

Only MHO of course...


message 25: by Phillip (last edited Apr 15, 2013 04:00PM) (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments Julie wrote: "The film is about Dali, Lorca, and Bunel's friendship at university in 1922 Madrid: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1104083/.
."


ah, so it calls for a young bunuel ...

it's a tough call - if you look at photos of bunuel in his youth, he is more robust than pattinson ... that's one of my first concerns - it needs to be a taller somebody with a bit more bulk - not girth, but heft ... the eyes need to be piercing and intense as well.

i honestly wouldn't want the job of casting that part. a younger benicio del toro would be my first guess, someone who can bring on the unpredictability and the trickster spirit.


message 26: by Phillip (last edited Apr 15, 2013 09:44PM) (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments Sooz wrote: "so can you give me an example of other directors that you would call surreal?..."

the surrealists were interested in assembling narratives that challenged our dogged addiction to reason. narratives that confound our expectations and forced the viewer to work a bit harder to make sense of the images presented. the story line isn't meant to be linear, rather the comprehension comes from the act of assembling diverse stimuli and subject. the architects of surrealism assumed that each observer would come away with a different impression or understanding of the work.

so, the question is, who does that?

a lot of japanese cinema comes to mind - i think robert mentioned teshigahara - sure, i'd paint PITFALL and WOMAN OF THE DUNES with that brush. i think suzuki called on surrealism a good deal - but he isn't interested in following any rules, even the rules of surrealism, which would appear to imply no rules - but the elements of surprise (editing that can cause a sense of shock) and oddity (achieving sexual satisfaction from smelling fresh cooked rice) feels akin to the genre. the characters act in ways that defy common sense. there are quite a few other japanese (and asian in general) directors, vintage and contemporary, who have a few toes in the water of surrealism. the ghost stories (KURONEKO, KWAIDAN, JIGOKU, EMPIRE OF PASSION, and, hello!, HOUSE) all take the element of phantasm and push it into the realm of the absurd. as a sub-genre a lot of j/k-horror
films fit the bill (AUDITION, THIRST ...).

a friend of mine wrote a fine book on french surrealism and contemporary japanese art ... turns out there is a history of surrealism in japan that goes back further than breton and his lot. her name is miriam sas, and she said it much better than i could:

http://www.sup.org/book.cgi?id=417

in america, there are quite a few directors who use it as window dressing. david lynch seems a director most committed to infusing his narratives with non-linear structure. but i think lynch is more concerned with understanding the unconscious than abiding by any particular genre rules. if his films have an air of surrealism, it's because he is observing the *rules* of a dream ... and i think there should be a distinction between surrealism and archetypal language of dreams. the unconscious provides us with imagery about ourselves that we must interpret for growth and understanding. the surrealists were not interested in communicating anything in particular - their narratives were not intended to mean anything. they were interested in engaging the observer in a game of what do you see when you look at this? there wasn't supposed to be an absolute answer.

so who does that? no one engaged in popular cinema really. sam brakhage could be considered a true surrealist - he shows us images and colors and flashing light. he really does challenge our ideas on what films should do. he isn't interested in crafting a message. some of chris marker's films fall into this realm - i'm thinking SANS SOLEIL, right off the top of my head.

cocteau, who was associated with the early surrealists, walked both sides of the track - he abandoned surrealism and focused on dream and the unconscious, but in linear narratives that used myth as a thematic and structural device.

bunuel, like some of the japanese directors i mentioned, is interested in cinema as a revolutionary act - an act of forging new identities by destroying the old ones. EXTERMINATING ANGEL allows us to watch society dissolving before our eyes. we move from the rational to the irrational.


message 27: by Julie (new)

Julie (brontesister) | 908 comments Phillip wrote: "Julie wrote: "The film is about Dali, Lorca, and Bunel's friendship at university in 1922 Madrid: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1104083/.
."

ah, so it calls for a young bunuel ...

it's a tough call..."


Pattinson plays the young Dali. Someone named Matthew McNulty plays Bunuel.


message 28: by Sooz (new)

Sooz thanks guys. i appreciate you taking the time to write your thoughts on this. this from Phillip struck me: our 'dogged addiction to reason'. yeah. i am well acquainted with that part of my brain!

i think a lot of the best directors challenge that part of the brain - and i think that is a big part of the reason they are great. they present things in a slightly skewed way that forces us to see something in a new light. as you put it Phillip, they provide us "with imagery about ourselves that we must interpret for growth and understanding."

and what you say about surrealist makes perfect sense to me as well "the surrealists were not interested in communicating anything in particular - their narratives were not intended to mean anything" THAT bit 'not meant to mean anything' ... yeah, that's surrealism to me. but that is not the Bunuel i have seen except -Un Chien Andaldou. Bunuel's films are rich in symbolism both religious and secular that gives them tremendous meaning.


message 29: by Phillip (last edited Apr 21, 2013 11:37AM) (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments exactly - as you say, he twists things in order to force his viewers to see differently - that is the role of any artist, really, but it's also WHAT he wants you to see that is connected to revolution - he's spanish, and we can't forget that - so the way he wrestles with the catholic church, sexuality, and other social norms has always seemed revolutionary to me. and he often uses the irrational world of surrealism to hoist those things.


message 30: by Sooz (new)

Sooz i have two more Bunuel films in my possession! The Phantom of Liberty and The Discreet Charm. i shall return!


message 31: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments not a huge fan of PHANTOM ... i've only tried to watch it once - could have been me ... it felt like bunuel had returned to the surrealism of his youth ... i'm curious to hear what you have to say about it.

very happy to hear you got your hands on DISCREET CHARM. i am similarly curious to read your words on it.

go sooz!


message 32: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Reilly (tracyreilly) | 1761 comments I am right now watching one called L'Age D'Or...15 minutes into it and my computer froze up. Anyone seen it? It's on Netflix instant--why I'm watching...


message 33: by Phillip (last edited Jul 01, 2013 04:00PM) (new)

Phillip | 10611 comments i've seen it a few times and performed a live score with it about two years ago as part of sfSound's film series. i'm a big fan. the (original) score we played was composed by georges van parys, (i think that's how you spell his name) and bunuel is also credited as contributing to the score, but from other accounts i've read, i'm not so sure. it is a very fun score to perform though, and it really suits the film.


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