Los Olvidados (1950)

Los Olvidados (1950) movie poster

director Luis Buñuel
viewed: 01/15/2018

“The price of beans goes up, so does the price of songs.”

The lives of the street kids in Mexico City circa 1950 is the subject of Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados. They hustle and steal to survive, abandoned to the streets by parents who can’t or don’t want to care for them. The prologue narration makes it clear that this isn’t just a Mexico City reality, but one that can be found in any major city in the world, including New York and Paris.

And though the settings are the present day of the time, Los Olvidados is as relevant today, nearly 70 years later as when Buñuel made the film.

Buñuel strikes a tone that is unsentimental but still empathetic, depicting harsh brutalities and bitter ironies. Alongside some well-intentioned hopes. The ending is as bleak and ironic as any I can imagine, so much so, it’s nearly comic.

Los Olvidados had been on my watchlist for decades. Way too long. It’s a film I’ll be long mulling over.

Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)

Diary of a Chambermaid (1964) movie poster

director Luis Buñuel
viewed: 11/17/2016

Considered one of Luis Buñuel’s least surreal (and thus least representative) of his films, Diary of a Chambermaid is a beautifully shot and elegant drama with occasional bits of unexpected verve.

I’ve become a Buñuel aficionado in recent years and have been working slowly through his filmography.  That said, I’m not sure what I think of Diary of a Chambermaid.

The cinematography is elegant and full of intent.  It seems a great deal of the social commentary actually arose from the novel from which the film was adapted,  Le Journal d’une femme de chambre by Octave Mirbeau, a critique of the bourgeoisie from the perspective of a house servant that includes her herself as she marries into the world.

The film’s star is Jeanne Moreau as the titular Célestine, and the film’s most hard to pin down character and representation is Joseph the groom (Georges Géret).  He’s a fascist, proto-Nazi type and even more a child rapist and murderer.  Célestine is in love with him but also wants him to be arrested?’

Diary of a Chambermaid strikes me as a film that expands itself on further viewing.  I guess I am still in contemplation mode.

Simon of the Desert (1965)

Simon of the Desert (1965) movie poster

director Luis Buñuel
viewed: 06/08/2016

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.

That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)

That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) movie poster

director Luis Buñuel
viewed: 04/15/2016

Luis Buñuel’s final film, That Obscure Object of Desire was adapted from Pierre Louys’ 1898 novel La Femme et le Pantin, a novel which had been adapted before by Josef von Sternberg as The Devil Is a Woman (1935) and then by Julien Duviver under its original title.  Though I’ve never seen either of those film versions nor read the novel, it seems clear that That Obscure Object of Desire is an entirely Buñuelian picture, no matter the source material or other interpretations.

It’s the kind of story that on the surface could be entirely problematic pretty easily.  It’s the story of an older well-to-do man (Fernando Rey) falling for a young not-so-well-to-do young beauty (a girl named Conchita who is played alternatively by two actresses Carole Bouquet and Ángela Molina at different points).  Conchita is a consummate tease, leading him on, and then abandoning him, at times on moral grounds, at others as an intentional act of torment.

Instead of becoming some reductive power game fantasy, or even being a harsh skewering of the rich and privileged, it’s a nuanced and odd and inscrutable thing.  The story is layered within a retelling through flashbacks, retold for an audience, mixing titillation and comeuppance in contrast with any overt moralizing.  A subtext of random terrorist attacks (interestingly quite a contrast to our present day perceptions of terrorism) adds a layer of further oddity that extends the film further in its obscuring its objects.

Luis Buñuel’s genius is as sharp and provocative and masterful as ever.  Late films for major directors often seem compromised works in one or many ways, but I don’t think that can or should be said at all about That Obscure Object of Desire.  Its complexity and vision are as rich and keen as could be.  I find myself more and more compelled by Buñuel with every picture of his I see.

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

The Exterminating Angel (1962) movie poster

director Luis Buñuel
viewed: 06/01/2014

When you think about a Luis Buñuel film, if you aren’t thinking about ants crawling out of a hand or an eyeball getting sliced with a razorblade, you are perhaps thinking about a dinner party at which all the guests are stuck and can’t leave.  And if that is what you are thinking of, then you are thinking of his 1962 film, The Exterminating Angel.

A group of bourgeois rich folk gather at a luxurious mansion for an after Opera dinner party only to find that once in the living room, none of them can leave.  Nothing bars their way out, but they cannot move beyond the doorway of the room.  They become trapped there for days and weeks.  And just as they cannot leave, the outside world cannot set foot on the premises.

It’s classic Modernist absurdism at its best.

There is no reason, or maybe a small trigger of a social faux pas triggers what leads to an utter breakdown of society.   It brings to mind the Jean-Paul Sartre quote that “hell is other people.”  It certainly is being stuck with them.

Like Viridiana (1961) before it, it’s black humor surrealism.  Buñuel’s finest, sharpest, strangest work.  At least that I’ve seen so far.  Brilliant.

L’Age d’Or (1930)

L'Age d'Or (1930) screen capture

director Luis Buñuel
viewed: 05/13/2014

Amazingly, I’d never before seen Luis Buñuel’s first feature film, L’Age d’Or.  And I say “amazingly” simply because it’s totally one of the kinds of films that I would have seen in my teen years or early adult film years.  I don’t know what I would have made of it.  Maybe I don’t entirely know what to make of it now.

After making Un Chien Andalou (1929) with Salvador Dalí, Buñuel endeavored to work with the Surrealist painter again, only, according to lore (and facts) they had a falling out only a few days into the planning of the film.  A more sustained piece than the earlier short, the film also employs sound to its Surrealist motifs.

Buñuel, of course, would go on to a significant career in cinema, stretching the breadth and concepts of “Surrealism,” while true in many ways to the core of the aesthetic.  L’Age d’Or is much more in tune with Un Chien Andalou perhaps than Buñuel’s later works, non-linear, abstract, fragmentary.  But it exerts a strange power, particularly in moments and certain actions.

The would-be lovers are perhaps the most consistent motif, obsessed and hedonistic, but denied fulfillment, lusting deeply, verging toward violence, even sucking the toe of a silent statue.  These are the images that have clung to me, great artifact that it is.

Viridiana (1961)

Viridiana (1961) movie poster

director Luis Buñuel
viewed: 01/08/2014

How many truly radical filmmakers are there?  Really, they are quite a rare breed.

I don’t know why I haven’t gotten around to seeing more films by Luis Buñuel, but after watching Viridiana, I will say that maybe I’ve just been watching the wrong ones.

Buñuel left Spain after the Spanish-American War, fleeing the Franco regime and relocating to Mexico.  I think especially in our time in culture, it’s hard to appreciate how overtly political and ideological the world was leading up to World War II, what the significance of such actions as Fritz Lang leaving Germany after being approached by Joseph Goebbels reportedly approached him about heading the German Film Board.  Or how politically sly and clever Buñuel was in returning to Spain to make a film under Franco that was so absolutely perverse and coarsely mordant.

I guess if you read the synopsis of Viridiana, it doesn’t shout out to you what it really is.  It’s the story of a girl, the titular Viridiana (Sylvia Pinal), who is about to become a nun when she is asked to visit her long unseen uncle at his house in the country.  That he falls in love with her sounds banal enough, but he tries on her clothes, drugs her and plans to rape her so that she cannot become a nun and will have to stay with him.  Only when that plan fails, he hangs himself, leaving his estate to her and a child he fathered but never knew.

Viridiana takes this influx of wealth as an opportunity to try to do God’s work outside of the church.  She takes in the town’s homeless, drunks and reprobates and gives them food and shelter.  Only they are true drunks and reprobates.  They were even hired off the streets, non-professional actors, playing the ones she is trying to save while they continue their scheming and debauchery.  And her half-cousin, the bastard child of her uncle, has his own debauch in mind, peppered with his own semi-pious thoughts of salvation.

It’s far more than the thumbing of the nose.  It reminded me, if anything, vaguely of Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970), another social critique employing non-professional actors playing characters behaving badly, the metaphor for all society.

The film seems highly Catholic to me, or at least very interested in showing up the conventions of Catholicism.  Buñuel gladly laughed that the film was an athiestic film, as he was an athiest.  I get it.  It’s still Catholic-flavored, even if it’s taking the piss hardcore.

It’s brilliant, though.  Much more surprising and shocking than Buñuel’s later films that I’ve seen since I’ve been writing this diary,
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) or Belle de jour (1967).  In the extras on the disc (Criterion always does this so well), in an interview from French television, Buñuel is hilarious and clever with such a devilish look in his eyes as he talks cinema.  I was vaguely reminded of another short film I saw of Buñuel some long time ago that talked about him being a cartoonist originally?  Am I remembering that correctly?  It seems apropos.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) movie poster

(1972) dir. Luis Buñuel
viewed: 02/02/09

Back when I began this film diary in 2002, one of the first films that I watched that was by a significant filmmaker was Belle de jour (1967) by Luis Buñuel, thinking that it would be the beginning of watching many of his films and catching up.  But here it is 2009, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is only the second of his films that I have watched in the past 6-7 years.  Time certainly flies.  I certainly have watched numerous other classics by significant directors.  But for Buñuel, I have not followed through.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is an intentionally odd film.  The great thing about Buñuel and his Surrealism is how pure and political he maintained his vision throughout his career.  And that he managed to do so with continued critical acclaim.  You know, the only thing that I can come close to comparing this film to is Jean-Luc Godard’s Week End (1967), in depicting a world so clearly set in archetypes and non-logic that the film can’t be viewed for just pure pleasure, rather the film is constantly pushing the viewer into awareness of the medium, breaking the logic of narrative, and critiquing the film’s present world.

A trio of bourgeois couples try to sit down for a series of meals, which are broken up in a variety of non-sensical ways.  Dream interludes invade the story, sometimes quite clearly, and at other times in more disjointed ways.  The bourgeois men are corrupt cocaine dealers, presenting their social graces as pure fraud.  The political situation of Fernando Rey’s ambassador from Miranda is a bizarre mixture of terrorism, hidden crimes, and courtly gentlemanness.

Somewhat like my reaction to Belle de jour back in 2002, some of the societal eccentricities and character that are being flouted in the film have an archaic quality today.  Perhaps they are depicted this way to exemplify their archaic qualities of the time.  It’s hard to say.  I was 3 years old in the United States at the time this film was made.  It refelcts its period with images of strange moments against an intended facade of society.  Vietnam is reflected upon, all of the bougeouis are shown up to an extent.  And even everyone gets gunned down in the end.

It’s funny, but I didn’t enjoy watching it so much in the process, but am thinking more of the film as I consider it in retrospect.  Again, like Godard’s Week End the experience itself is a challenge, not meant for “pleasure” perhaps.  But for Buñuel, there is more pleasure, more comedy, more potential for pleasure.  I don’t know.  It’s a lot to think about.

Belle de jour

Bell de Jour (1967) movie poster

(1967) dir. Luis Buñuel
viewed: 04/03/02

I am ashamed to say that this is one of the only Buñuel films that I have seen outside of Un chien Andalou, which, coming from a former film student might sound rather shabby. However, I should point out that of the “classics” of cinema (of which there is an almost endless list already), there are many, many more significant films by important directors that I have never seen.

There are just a lot of films out there. And anyone that pretends that they have seen every significant film by each important director, is either just plain lying or simply has way too much time on their hands…or both.

That said, I approached Belle de jour with relatively “fresh” eyes. Which may well be the best possible approach to any film that one can have.

The film is from 1967, starring a young Catherine Deneuve as S�verine, a virginal bourgeois housewife who has masochistic sexual fantasies and comes to lead a double life as a prostitute in a Parisian brothel.

The film operates as a social critique of the middle class but also an exploration of fantasy and separation from reality.

I would suggest that perhaps the former critique speaks potentially to an social dynamic that has ceased to exist in a more literal sense. Its connections to social mores seems “dated,” though only in a contemporary interpretation. Though there are certain essences of the society of late 1960’s France that are universal, one might say that overall, the reality of the film’s world is almost fantasy in itself. Perhaps even in the late Sixties, these ideas addressed an older order that was already in the midst of change.

The film’s exploration of the dream/fantasy and its conflation with reality, on the other hand, still seems rich and powerful. It is not uncommon in cinema for directors to play with narrative by means of “dream sequences,”
even to the point of intentional confusion between opposing “realities” portrayed therein. In Belle de jour, the naturalism of the cinematography lulls one into accepting the inherent “reality” of the story. The film’s latent “surreal” character arises more once the film has ended. The borders between dream and reality have been collapsed, for both S�verine and for the viewer.

There is a troubling misogyny on the surface of the narrative that seems to be a part of the film’s critique of France’s 1960’s bourgeoisie, escaping sexual repression via fantasy. This perceived misogyny dissipated for me as the narrative became less cohesive.

In the end, I found it a remarkable, poetic film, which, I am sure that would do well with deeper analysis than I am offering here.