director Luis Buñuel
Though he was the first filmmaker accepted as a member of the Surrealist movement, Luis Buñuel was far more than an artist reduced to such singularity. With dozens of films made over a 40 year career, produced in Spain, France, and Mexico, the singularity is Buñuel himself, an auteur with a truly sprawling career. And by now solidified into one of my all-time favorites.
Simon of the Desert is unusual in that it is only 46 minutes long. There are varying and somewhat conflicting stories as to whether the film was originally to be feature-length and then ran out of funding, or as star Silvia Pinal tells it that it was part of some triptych that included directors Jules Dassin and Federico Fellini. Not that it matters.
It’s a wry and playful telling of the story of saint Simeon Stylites, who lived on top of a column in the desert for some number of years as a sign of religious devotion. Coming from a director who famously said, “I’m still an atheist, thank God,” this version of events includes the gorgeous Pinal as Satan as coquette, child, even a form of Christ, and takes a sharp turn at the end from the 5th century Syria to 1960’s Manhattan and a very interestingly choreographed rock-and-roll discotheque.
What’s it all mean? I’ll leave that up to each viewer or more scholarly writers. Sublimely filmed by cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, it’s another fine work by one of the greatest and most unique of 20th century cinema.