The Instant Expert's Guide to Luis Buñuel

Although stars get all the adulation, it's directors who have shaped cinema history. In the new Instant Expert series, Cinema Paradiso offers essential guides to the artists and artisans who have called the shots on the best films ever made. Following our profile of Federico Fellini, we come to Luis Buñuel, the wandering Spaniard whose 50-year career was filled with highly distinctive moments of subversive surrealism and poetic provocation.

In 1972, Alfred Hitchcock declared Luis Buñuel to be 'the best director in the world', while Ingmar Bergman praised the consistency of his vision by averring that 'Buñuel nearly always made Buñuel films'. But what was a 'Buñuel film', as the wandering Spaniard started out producing Surrealist provocations in Paris during 'les années folles' before finding an unexpected postwar niche in Mexican cinema. Once back in Europe in the early 1960s, he followed a scathing reproach to his homeland with a series of deceptively playful satires made in France.

Some would question claims he was an auteur by pointing out that he invariably wrote his screenplays with such trusted collaborators as Luis Alcoriza, Julio Alejandro and Jean-Claude Carrière. But Buñuel frequently exposed religious hypocrisy, patriarchal oppression and bourgeois complacency, as he sought to make good on his maxim, 'In a world as badly made as ours, there is only one road - rebellion.' Yet, while he could be angry, Buñuel remained an enigmatic contrarian, who could joke in all sincerity towards the end of his life: 'I am still an atheist, thank God.'

A Child of the Middle Ages

The oldest of Leonardo Buñuel and Maria Portholés's seven children, Luis Buñuel was born on 22 February 1900 in the small town of Calanda in the mountainous Teruel region of Aragon in eastern Spain. He would claim in his autobiography, My Last Breath (1983), that he had spent his first four years in a backwater in which 'the Middle Ages lasted until World War I'. In 1905, however, the family relocated to Zaragoza, where the devout Buñuel was educated by the Jesuits at the Colegio del Salvador before a crisis of faith at 16 fostered a burning sense of injustice at what he perceived to be the Catholic Church's abuse of its status, wealth and power.

A talented boxer, hypnotist and violinist, the young Buñuel enjoyed giving shadow shows using a magic lantern. But, apart from a love of the slapstick films of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd (many of which can be rented from Cinema Paradiso), Buñuel wasn't much of a cineaste at the University of Madrid, where he studied philosophy and forged a close friendship with poet Federico García Lorca and painter Salvador Dalí, while living in the Residencia de Estudiantes. They became key members of the Surrealist avant-garde group known as La Generación del 27 and this phase of Buñuel's life was dramatised by Paul Morrison in Little Ashes (2008), which starred Matthew McNulty as Buñuel, Javier Beltrán as Lorca and Robert Pattinson as Dalí.

Three years later, Adrien de Van played Buñuel in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (2011), which sought to recapture the spirit of the City of Lights during the Jazz Age. Buñuel left Madrid for the French capital following the death of his father in 1925 and found a job as a secretary at the International Society of Intellectual Cooperation. However, he became hooked on cinema after seeing Fritz Lang's Destiny (1921) and got his chance to work in film through Jean Epstein, who had made his reputation with visually innovative pictures like Coeur fidèle (1923), which were hailed by critics as being the cinematic equivalent of Impressionism.

In addition to playing a smuggler in Jacques Feyder's Carmen (1926), Buñuel also served as Epstein's assistant on Mauprat (1926) and La Chute de la Maison Usher (1928), the latter being a fantasy on the Edgar Allan Poe story that has since been remade as The Fall of the House of Usher by Ivan Barnett in Britain in 1950 and Roger Corman in Hollywood in 1960. However, following Mario Nalpas's Josephine Baker vehicle, La Sirène des Tropiques, Buñuel turned down the chance to work on Abel Gance's Napoleon (both 1927) in order to review the latest releases for La Gaceta Literaria and Les Cahiers d'Art.

A Desperate Impassioned Call to Murder

The thought of making films had occurred to Buñuel, however, and he worked on a screenplay for Los Caprichos with the Surrealist writer Ramón Gómez de la Serna. However, he was also still in touch with Dalí and, borrowing money from his mother, Buñuel embarked upon a 17-minute silent onslaught of images and ideas that critic Roger Ebert would later call 'the most famous short film ever made'. Written in a week and drawing on the co-directors' dreams, Un Chien Andalou (1929) consciously departed from Epstein's brand of cinema in seeking to avoid any content that 'that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind'. They hoped it would shock the Parisian intelligentsia and Buñuel went to the premiere at the Studio des Ursulines with stones in his pockets in case a riot broke out. But, with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Le Corbusier and Surrealist leader André Breton in audience, the film proved a succès d'estime.

Suitably impressed, the Vicomte de Noailles commissioned a follow-up for his Studio 28 cinema. However, Buñuel and Dalí fell out during the writing of what was originally to be called La Bête andalouse, as the former wanted to attack the rising tide of Fascism across Europe, while the latter sought to attack Catholicism. As a consequence, Dalí stayed away from the filming of L'Age d'Or (1930), which vaguely chronicled the efforts of Gaston Modot and Lya Lys to consummate their relationship in the face of 'wretched humanitarian ideals, patriotism and the other poor mechanisms of reality'. However, the political content and a visual link between Jesus Christ and the Marquis de Sade prompted the League of Patriots and the Anti-Jewish Youth Group to attack the venue, while the Vatican threatened to excommunicate De Noailles and his wife for encouraging blasphemy.

Naturally, Buñuel was delighted with the reaction, although it persuaded De Noailles to delay the release of Jean Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet (1932), as it also tackled anti-clerical themes. He also decided to withdraw L'Age d'Or in 1934 and it remained out of circulation for 45 years. But the film had already served as a calling card for Buñuel and he and Lya Lys were invited to study film-making techniques at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. During his stay, Buñuel made the acquaintance of Sergei Eisenstein, Josef von Sternberg, Jacques Feyder, Charles Chaplin and Bertolt Brecht. However, Greta Garbo had him thrown off the first set he tried to visit and, after doing extra duties in a Spanish version of George Hill's Min and Bill (1930), he refused to go near the studio until his short-term contract expired.

A Rebel Without Applause

Once in Europe, Buñuel announced his break from the Surrealists and joined the Communist Party. But there was still an iconoclastic edge to Las Hurdes (1932), a documentary study of peasant life in the impoverished Extremadura region of rural Spain. Claimed by some as the first mockumentary, this bold blend of starkly realistic imagery and travelogue-like narration was banned by parties on either side in the Spanish Civil War and Buñuel thought it prudent to accept a job in the dubbing department of Paramount's Paris studios until the fuss died down.

He returned to Madrid in 1934 when Warner Bros opened a dubbing studio, only to be headhunted by Ricardo Urgoiti of Filmófono, who asked him to produce pictures for mainstream Spanish audiences. As he insisted on complete anonymity, it's not possible to determine with any accuracy whether Buñuel directed any of the 18 projects he executive produced. However, scholars have deduced that he was more than simply the guiding hand on the musicals Don Quintin the Sourpuss and Juan Simón's Daughter (both 1935) and the comedies, Who Loves Me? (1936) and Sentry, Keep Watch! (1937).

When the Civil War broke out, Buñuel was placed in charge of cataloguing Republican propaganda films. He also supervised Jean-Paul Le Chanois's España 1936 (1937) and, following Lorca's death at the hands of the Nationalist militia, Buñuel returned to America to advise on Hollywood features about the conflict. However, the 1938 MGM project, Cargo of Innocence, was cancelled because of its left-leaning sentiments and, being unable to return to Spain after Francisco Franco took power, Buñuel did odd jobs like devising gags for Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) in order to stay afloat.

He readily relocated to New York, therefore, when Museum of Modern Art film curator Iris Barry asked him to re-edit Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935), as part of a programme designed to teach President Roosevelt's administration about the value of film propaganda. Moreover, he re-edited over 2000 actualities for Latin American markets, as part of the 'Good Neighbour' initiative. Yet, despite returning to Warners to dub films into Spanish, Buñuel failed to find backing for a number of his own feature projects, while some have questioned his claim to have contributed to Robert Florey's Peter Lorre chiller, The Beast With Five Fingers (1946). With his avenues narrowing, therefore, Buñuel decided to try his luck across the southern border.

Down Mexico Way

Despite a proposed Mexican adaptation of Lorca's play, The House of Bernarda Alba, falling through, Buñuel felt comfortable in a Hispanic environment and readily accepted producer Óscar Dancigers's offer to direct singing stars Libertad Lamarque and Jorge Negrete in the 'churro' musical mystery, Gran Casino (1947). He followed this with the comedy, The Great Madcap (1949), which starred Fernando Soler as a rich widower who turns the tables on his work-shy relatives. Made quickly and cheaply and limited to only 125 shots, neither film proved a success. But the Russian-born Dancigers realised that Buñuel was merely ring-rusty and encouraged him to attempt something weightier in the form of Los Olvidados (1950).

Drawing on Buñuel's experiences of slum life in Mexico City, the story of an adolescent boy's bid to resist the baleful influence of an older youth combined surrealist and neo-realist elements and so infuriated patriotic audiences that Dancigers was forced to change the ending to show that Mexico was not alone in having to contend with juvenile poverty and delinquency. But the reaction was so hostile that he was forced to withdraw the picture after just three days, amidst demands for Buñuel's recently granted citizenship to be revoked. However, poet Octavio Paz was much more impressed and took the film to Cannes, where Buñuel won the prize for Best Director.

Suddenly the toast of Mexican cinema, Buñuel was given the latitude to conduct the odd experiment while churning out generic offerings to earn his keep. Over the next 18 years, he made 21 features, including Susana, which follows the misadventures of reformatory escapee Rosita Quintana, the intriguing road movie, Ascent to Heaven (both 1951), and the simmering melodrama, The Brute (1952), which sees luggish slaughterhouse worker Pedro Armendáriz fall for Katy Jurado, the wife of exploitative slumlord, Andrés Soler. Buñuel also joined forces with the American studios United Artists and Columbia for Robinson Crusoe (1954) and The Young One (1960), which respectively starred the Oscar-nominated Dan O'Herlihy as Daniel Defoe's castaway (in what was Buñuel's first colour film) and Zachary Scott and Bernie Hamilton in a race relations parable set on a remote island off the Carolina coast.

Co-operation was also the theme of Death in the Garden (1955), one of three French co-productions that Buñuel directed in the middle of the decade, which stranded adventurer Georges Marchal, prostitute Simone Signoret, priest Michel Piccoli, diamond miner Charles Vanel and his deaf daughter, Michèle Girardon, in a South American jungle at the height of a revolution. The quality of these Mexican outings was decidedly mixed (hence so many of them being unavailable on disc) and Buñuel admitted that he accepted any assignment 'as long as it wasn't humiliating'. But this period did produce two of his finest achievements, Nazarin (1958), which stars Francisco Rabal as a priest whose penurious parishioners despise his attempt to life according to Christian principles, and The Exterminating Angel (1962), which centres on the deteriorating behaviour of the guests at a dinner party hosted by a senator and his wife when they discover that they are trapped in a single room inside a luxurious mansion.

Europe's Favourite Provocateur

With the exception of Simon of the Desert (1965), the majority of Buñuel's later films would be made in France. One notable exception is Viridiana (1961), which he scripted with Julio Alejandro after Carlos Saura asked his compatriot to return home to work with the UNINCI company he had set up with fellow directors Juan Antonio Bardem and Luis García Berlanga to create a new brand of Spanish cinema. Unable to resist the temptation to cock a snook at El Caudillo, Buñuel submitted a screenplay that he was confident would be rejected by the state censors.

Much to his amazement, only cosmetic changes were requested and he used his son, Juan Luis, to smuggle the negative across the Pyrenees after presenting the authorities with a rough cut. Moreover, he persuaded the head of the Spanish film industry, José Munoz-Fontan, to introduce the film at Cannes and collect the Palme d'Or when it tied with Henri Colpi's The Long Absence. Then, with Munoz-Fontan basking in reflected glory, the Vatican realised that the picture openly mocked Christianity and it was banned for the next 17 years, while the luckless cine-chief was unceremoniously fired.

Two years later, Buñuel returned to Paris to adapt Octave Mirbeau's Diary of a Chambermaid, which had previously been filmed in Hollywood by Jean Renoir in 1946. Jeanne Moreau inherited the role previously taken by Paulette Goddard (and revisited by Léa Seydoux in 2015). In order to help Buñuel with the French screenplay, Polish producer Serge Silberman hired actor Jean-Claude Carrière, who struck up such a rapport with the director that he became his favourite writing partner.

They were frustrated in their efforts to adapt Matthew Lewis's Gothic novel, The Monk (which was filmed by Dominik Moll in 2011), but enjoyed scandalous success with Belle de Jour (1967), an adaptation of Joseph Kessel's novel about a prim housewife who seeks work in a Parisian brothel. Despite her unhappy experience on the project, Catherine Deneuve also signed up for Tristana (1970), which was based on an equally infamous tome by Benito Pérez Galdós. Indeed, the Spanish censors had previously denied Buñuel permission to film in Toledo. But, learning little from the Viridiana farrago, they allowed him to shoot the story of a 1930s nobleman who becomes obsessed with a pious woman who accepts his marriage proposal after having a leg amputated.

Religion also reared its head in The Milky Way (1969), which followed a couple of French pilgrims on their way to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Denounced by some as wilfully heretical, this talkative picaresque has been claimed by some as a fascinating treatise on the mysteries of the Catholic faith. As if to prove Buñuel's contention that he could fool most of the people all of the time, he was both amused and outraged to receive the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), which he claimed had been voted for by '2500 idiots'.

Revisiting the creative process he had perfected with Dalí, Buñuel invited Carrière to share his dreams before they wrote The Phantom of Liberty (1974), a dissertation on chance and necessity whose title pays wistful tribute to The Communist Manifesto. Episodic, endlessly teasing and acutely perceptive, this surrealist satire remained one of Buñuel's favourite films and, with his hearing deteriorating, it also proved to be his penultimate venture. Once again, he turned to a literary source, as That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) was based on the same Pierre Louÿs novel that had inspired Josef von Sternberg's Marlene Dietrich drama, The Devil is a Woman (1935). However, it turned out to be a difficult shoot, as Buñuel had to replace Maria Schneider, who was struggling with her drug addiction after becoming an overnight star in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1972), and decided to cast both Angela Molina and Carole Bouquet in the role of the aspiring flamenco dancer determined to keep out of the clutches of the lustful Fernando Rey.

In retirement, Buñuel worked on his memoirs with Carrière and studiously prepared for death. Still resident in Mexico City, he spent his last days discussing theology with Dominican priest Julian Pablo Fernandez, with whom he joked he was being 'crucified for surrealism'. Shortly after whispering, 'I'm dying', to Jeanne Rucar, his exceptionally tolerant wife of 49 years, he passed away on 29 July 1983. However, it seems that Buñuel has been involved in one last prank on the clergy, as Fr Fernandez's claim to have placed the Spaniard's ashes in the order's university chapel was contested by Buñuel's second son, Rafael, who insists that he scattered them from Mount Tolcha near his father's home town in 1997.

  • Un Chien Andalou / L'Age D'Or (1930) An Andalusian Dog

    1h 55min

    By opening Un Chien Andalou with a shot of a razor blade slicing through an eyeball, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí left contemporaries in no doubt that this was an assault on conventional methods of depicting and seeing. Whereas Sergei Eisenstein gave montage a metaphorical purpose in propagandist pictures like Battleship Potemkin (1925), Dalí and Buñuel sought to tap into the unconscious. As a recent convert to Surrealism, Buñuel believed that cinema was 'the best instrument to express the world of dreams, of emotions, of instinct' and he bombards the audience with images that don't always make sense in themselves, but which have a symbolic and associational significance that will mean different things to each viewer. Despite the mischievous captions and dislocatory juxtapositions, there is a narrative of sorts, as Pierre Batcheff hauls a piano loaded with his socio-emotional baggage after being spurned by Simone Mareuil. But the trick to tackling this epochal short is to watch it two or three times and compare your reactions.

  • Young and the Damned (1950) Los Olvidados

    1h 17min

    Afforded the opportunity to make a social conscience tract after returning to directing with a couple of light entertainments, Buñuel spent six months in the slums of Mexico City to acquire a feel for their atmosphere and an understanding of the mentality of the children whose lives had been blighted by poverty. Based on real cases, the story centres around the bond that forms between two teenagers, Jaibo (Roberto Cobo) and Pedro (Alfonso Mejia), a hardened criminal recently released from prison and an innocent rejected by his parents whose conscience is pricked when he witnesses a murder. Despite the influence of neo-realist classics like Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine (1946), Buñuel presented a much more uncompromising impression of street life because he loathed 'films that make the poor romantic and sweet'. Consequently, the influence of The Young and the Damned continues to be felt in features like Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund's City of God (2002).

    Director:
    Luis Buñuel
    Cast:
    Alfonso Mejía, Roberto Cobo, Estela Inda
    Genre:
    Drama, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Nazarin (1958) Nazarín

    1h 34min

    Following Los Olvidados, Buñuel made another five feature with master cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, who was the ideal choice for this relocating of Spaniard Benito Pérez Galdós's acclaimed novel, as Figueroa had already photographed another story about a Mexican priest struggling to live up to his vocation in John Ford's The Fugitive (1947), which had been based on Graham Greene's bestseller, The Power and the Glory. Devout, but aware that few in his rundown, turn-of-the-century parish can afford the luxury of faith, Father Nazario (Francisco Rabal) goes on a pilgrimage after being defrocked for seeking to protect the suicidal Beatriz (Marga Lopez) and Andara (Rita Macedo), a prostitute who has just killed a rival in a knife fight. Nazario means well, but consistently spreads dissension in his wake, as Buñuel (en route to winning the Grand Prix International at Cannes) questions the validity of organised religion and all its hypocritical restrictions in a society in which common decency is viewed as a sign of weakness.

    Director:
    Luis Buñuel
    Cast:
    Marga López, Francisco Rabal, Rita Macedo
    Genre:
    Drama, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Viridiana (1961)

    1h 27min

    On returning to Spain, Buñuel revised Benito Pérez Galdós's novel, Halma, to critique the Franco regime by demonstrating that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds'. Moreover, in following a pious novice nun (Silvia Pinal) to the estate of her decadent uncle (Fernando Rey) and his illegitimate son (Francisco Rabal), Buñuel unleashed a quarter of a century's resentment at the Catholic Church in a beggars' orgy sequence that resembled Leonardo Da Vinci's famous depiction of the Last Supper and played out to the accompaniment of Handel's Messiah. The concluding set-piece was equally devastating, as Viridiana (who has abandoned the crown of thorns and the large wooden crucifix that had symbolised her faith) plays a ménage game of cards with her cousin and his mistress (Margarita Lozano) while listening to a record of Ashley Beaumont's 'Shimmy Doll'. Lacing the provocative action with allusions to incest, necrophilia, rape and sacrilege, Buñuel fanned the flames by suggesting his inspirations had included an erotic dream about seducing the Spanish queen.

    Director:
    Luis Buñuel
    Cast:
    Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey, Francisco Rabal
    Genre:
    Comedy, Classics, Drama, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Exterminating Angel (1962) El Angel exterminador

    1h 29min

    Known during the early stages of its production as The Castaways of Providence Street, Buñuel's return to pure satire after a decade of arch melodrama is strewn with self-reflexive repetitions, gags and inconsistencies that attest to his appreciation of the nouvelle vague. Jean-Luc Godard would acknowledge the film's influence on Weekend (1967) and Buñuel would revisit several of its themes in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which affirms his frustration that he had been insufficiently savage on the guests trapped in a Mexican senator's home after a post-theatre dinner party. Tossing a few personal recollections into the mix, Buñuel improvised much of the action as though testing the cast and the audience's willingness to follow where he led. With bears and sheep reinforcing the bestial essence of human nature, the escalating mayhem is adroitly photographed by Gabriel Figueroa to emphasise the divides within and between the different classes, as the outsiders looking in prove incapable of saving the feuding survivors from themselves.

  • Diary of a Chambermaid (1964) Le journal d'une femme de chambre

    1h 34min

    Initially, Buñuel had hoped to make this film in Mexico, with Silvia Pinal as the maid who turns the male heads in a degenerate household before marrying a child-murdering groundsman in the hope of exposing his crime. But Buñuel certainly turned the French setting to his advantage. Although Jean Renoir had adapted Octave Mirbeau's novel in postwar Hollywood, Buñuel's take comes closer in tone to his country house masterpiece, La Règle du Jeu (1939), in depicting France as a nation dancing on the edge of a volcano. However, by moving the misadventures of Celestine (Jeanne Moreau) to 1930, Buñuel was revisiting his own past, as the name the pro-Fascist crowd chants during the closing rally is that of Jean Chiappe, who was the right-wing Parisian police chief who had called for the banning of L'Age d'Or. Buñuel clearly felt little had changed, however, as he doesn't hold back in depicting the bigotry, cruelty, salaciousness, hypocrisy and venality of those on either side of the class divide.

    Director:
    Luis Buñuel
    Cast:
    Jeanne Moreau, Michel Piccoli, Georges Géret
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • Belle De Jour (1967) Belle de jour

    Play trailer
    1h 36min

    Having previously explored fetishism and fantasy in such overlooked Mexican outings as El (1953) and The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (1955), Buñuel landed the Golden Lion at Venice and enjoyed the biggest commercial success of his career with this loose adaptation of Joseph Kessel's 1928 novel. The bulk of the action draws on actual cases confided by the various psychiatrists that Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière consulted while mulling over the enduring Surrealist fascination with the blurred line between dreams and reality. Resembling a cross between Greta Garbo and Doris Day, 23 year-old Catherine Deneuve excels as Séverine, the doctor's wife who gives her masochistic imagination free rein by seeking part-time employment in the upmarket brothel operated in a respectable Parisian neighbourhood by the chic Madame Anaïs (Geneviève Page). Impeccably designed by Robert Clavel and photographed by Sacha Vierny, this sometimes feels like Douglas Sirk's take on Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), but with the added bonus of the venomous wit that was Buñuel's trademark.

    Director:
    Luis Buñuel
    Cast:
    Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Romance, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • The Milky Way (1969) La voie lactée

    Play trailer
    1h 37min

    Four decades after Jazz Age youth had challenged the established order, the Swinging Sixties gave the Baby Boom generation the chance to seize freedoms that had long been denied the lower classes. As an unrepentant subversive, Buñuel viewed the erosion of traditional authority with the impish glee he channelled into this compelling pilgrim's progress, which presents Pierre (Paul Frankeur) and Jean (Laurent Terzieff) as a quixotic twosome on the Way of St James to the apostle's shrine at Santiago de Compostella. En route, they encounter various folks who discuss points of theology in exchanges drawn from Scripture and revered texts that allowed Buñuel to let the speakers condemn themselves out of their own mouths. Moreover, by including a very human Christ in the scenario, he appeared to be echoing John Lennon's infamous declaration of three years earlier that 'Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary.' For all the philosophical intensity, there are also riotous slapstick moments, like the Jesuit-Jansenist swordfight.

    Director:
    Luis Buñuel
    Cast:
    Paul Frankeur, Luis Buñuel, Laurent Terzieff
    Genre:
    Comedy, Classics, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie

    Play trailer
    1h 37min

    As his health declined, Buñuel kept threatening to retire. But producer Serge Silberman prompted him to make this scathing satire with an anecdote about some guests showing up on his doorstep after he had forgotten he had invited them to dine. With sciatica making it uncomfortable to spend long days on the set, Buñuel made pioneering use of a video feed to direct the seven characters in search of their supper. He also kept Edmond Richard's camera at an atypical distance and utilised zoom lenses to focus on faces while keeping the audience guessing whether they were watching narrative events, reveries or reminiscences, as the septet wanders in a daze while clinging to their illusions, entitlements and conviction in a collapsing patriarchal order. The ensemble couldn't be better, as Buñuel subjects them to a series of indignities that almost invite pity. But, even though he could boast, 'I now say with humour what I used to say with violence,' this remains as merciless as it is hilarious.

    Director:
    Luis Buñuel
    Cast:
    Fernando Rey, Delphine Seyrig, Paul Frankeur
    Genre:
    Comedy, Classics, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) Cet obscur objet du désir

    1h 39min

    Despite struggling with deafness and diabetes, Buñuel was considering Gérard Depardieu for a dual role in an adaptation of Loris-Karl Huysman's Là-Bas, when he decided to shift his attention to Pierre Louÿs's 1898 novella, La Femme et le Pantin. In his fourth collaboration, Fernando Rey was cast as the bourgeois widower desperate to seduce his new housemaid. But, when Isabelle Adjani became unavailable and Maria Schneider proved unsatisfactory, Buñuel inverted the dual role idea and cast both Angela Molina and Carole Bouquet as Conchita in a trans-continental odyssey that revisited such perennial themes as male tyranny, sexual repression, the capriciousness of fate, the cruelty of passion and the indivisibility of fantasy and reality, Defying logic when it came to switching between Bouquet and Molina's depiction of the 'sensual, virginal, demonic little girl' who refuses to be treated like an object, Buñuel reminded us of the warning contained in the slicing of an eyeball half a century earlier that cinema can beguile with deceptive beauty while shocking with the truth.

    Director:
    Luis Buñuel
    Cast:
    Fernando Rey, Carole Bouquet, Ángela Molina
    Genre:
    Classics, Drama, Comedy, Romance, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray

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