Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

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Rayon Vert
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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#51 Post by Rayon Vert » Wed Dec 27, 2017 2:29 pm

Los Olvidados. Almost neo-realism, which means it’s fairly singular in the oeuvre, despite its iconic stature. This brutal world of abandoned children and the social conditions creating it are observed unsentimentally yet with humanistic non-judgment. The film is potent because the characters are so strongly defined, and the relationships between the children are compelling. It’s hard not to see Truffaut’s 400 Blows as having being influenced by it, especially when we get to Pedro and his unloving mother and his being sent to reform school. Like that later film, this is children warts and all, not romanticized little adults. There’s also something a little mythic about these characters, with the blind man striking the figure of a seer at times, and the Oedipal flavor of the boys’ relation to the mother.


Subido al cielo (Ascent to Heaven aka Mexican Bus Ride). Likeable in parts but unexceptional. The bulk of this near-farce is Oliverio stuck on a long, adventurous bus journey to fetch a notary to validate his dying mother’s will against his scheming brothers’ plans. The scenes that bookend the film, having to do with that family drama, feel a bit discontinuous with the somewhat meandering bus sequences. There is a striking, very surrealistically executed dream sequence in the middle of the film, though, that feels like Bunuel injecting a strongly personal touch into the film.


Viridiana. A sister to Nazarin in the depiction of the folly of Christian ideals, though even harder-hitting. Pretty much flawless. At the same time I was struck this time by the way the film is built out of fairly unconnected narrative sections, with an accompanying changing focus on primary characters: Don Jaime’s perverse plans towards Viridiana (an inkling of nunsploitation here), Viridiana’s educational mission towards the beggars, the extended beggars banquet scene, the assault on Viridiana.

I find this is also perhaps the most accomplished Bunuel film in terms of creating something that’s neither pure drama nor black comedy but fashioning a tone that is arguably richer and certainly more subtle than the flat out ironic tone of the later films.

Also, Carrière has said Bunuel’s partial deafness accounted for his not wanting to include music in many of his films, classical music aficionado though he was, but here there’s copious and ingenious use of Handel, Bach and Mozart, contrasted with that rockabilly tune at the end that symbolizes Viridiana’s full renunciation of the religious world.


Abismos de pasion (Wuthering Heights). Bunuel said he was more faithful to the novel than Wyler was but the film isn’t that dissimilar, except for the fact there are no flashbacks. That’s probably one of the reasons this doesn’t entirely succeed, as unless you’re already familiar with the novel and the characters it’s hard all that much to know who this Alejandro (Heathcliff) is about, and what his earlier relationship with Catalina (Cathy) was and meant, so that you don’t care about the characters in the same way. This is unfortunately helped by the leads lacking charisma. This is still a somewhat likeable film, though – there’s plenty of Bunuel’s little interesting pieces with insects and other animals, and the exterior settings look good and are atmospheric.


That’s the end of my viewings for this list project. I hadn’t expected to be able to get to see all the Bunuels I hadn’t yet seen; that’s an added bonus to the pleasurable experience of taking a deep dive into a director’s work like this.
Last edited by Rayon Vert on Wed Dec 27, 2017 2:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#52 Post by domino harvey » Wed Dec 27, 2017 2:37 pm

Congrats Rayon Vert, I never even get close to watching everything I want for a List Project. I've enjoyed your write ups, hopefully you'll rejoin us in Biopics in a few weeks!

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#53 Post by knives » Wed Dec 27, 2017 2:43 pm

Likewise. I was originally planning on sitting this one out as the remaining Bunuel's don't sound as interesting to me, but you really drew me to the project.

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#54 Post by bottled spider » Fri Dec 29, 2017 7:32 pm

Illusion Travels by Streetcar. I was thinking as I watched this that it would make a good short story. IMDb is indicating it is indeed an adaptation (of presumably a short story). It looks like the cited author Mauricio de la Serna was primarily a producer, director, and screenplay writer, who wrote a few stories (or novels?) adapted to film. I can't, however, find any indication online that he published.

I liked it, but felt that for what it is it could have been much shorter. Or something wilder could have been made of it. Though Buñuel may not have had the freedom to do so -- this was an assigned film, no?

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#55 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Dec 29, 2017 8:54 pm

I thought the Christmas pageant one sees in Illusion was enough (just in itself) to make the film watch-worthy.

Couldn't one also describe Bruto as pretty neo-realist?

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#56 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Dec 29, 2017 11:39 pm

bottled spider wrote:Illusion Travels by Streetcar. I was thinking as I watched this that it would make a good short story. IMDb is indicating it is indeed an adaptation (of presumably a short story). It looks like the cited author Mauricio de la Serna was primarily a producer, director, and screenplay writer, who wrote a few stories (or novels?) adapted to film. I can't, however, find any indication online that he published.
By the imdb and French Wiki pages, it sounds like De la Serna was those three things rather than a published author. Likely he just had this story that he wrote the screenplay for (?). I notice Alcoriza helped, who wrote or co-wrote a sizeable chunk of the Mexican Bunuel films.

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#57 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jan 04, 2018 11:09 pm

Lists are due in a week!

I've been revisiting some of Bunuel's films to jog my memory of where they'll place and it's bizarre to me how Cahiers had no problem with (and indeed loved) his run of deeply anti-clerical satires in the fifties and sixties and yet rejected almost all other left wing filmic critical attempts at the same. I mean, Rayon Vert shared a sympathetic reading of the main figure in Nazarin, so I guess it's possible to read these at face value, but that film for instance is to me an absurd portrait of the fundamental weakness of Christian ego. The key scene of the whole film (and honestly, maybe of Bunuel's long history of religious satires) is the moderately sympathetic criminal telling the priest that he's all good and the thief all bad, and look where it got both of them-- a beautiful example of horseshoe theory and a call to moderation for religious extremists!

Also, my other key takeaway from rewatching many of these films in short order is I forgot how unrelentingly pessimistic and negative a director Bunuel is! It always seems to fit his material, but still, after a while I need a breather in between revisits.

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#58 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Jan 05, 2018 2:13 am

domino harvey wrote:Also, my other key takeaway from rewatching many of these films in short order is I forgot how unrelentingly pessimistic and negative a director Bunuel is! It always seems to fit his material, but still, after a while I need a breather in between revisits.
I too find him profoundly pessimistic but on the other hand I don't find him depressing at all - which my latest run-through of many of his films validated. I rather get a sense of him liking human beings while finding them, and especially their ideas and obsessions (basically their entire mental apparatus!), an endless source of (frequently grim) amusement.

On this note, Truffaut made an apt comparison between Bunuel and Bergman that has stuck with me, written for an article on a Bergman retrospective in 1971 (so have in your mind the ultra-depressing Bergman of the decade that had just finished). It's in Les Films de ma vie, and I'll attempt a translation here:
I sometimes wonder if Ingmar Bergman really finds life as hopeless as he's shown it to us in his films of the last ten years. We can be sure that Bergman does not help us to live, unlike Renoir. For better or for worse, it seems to us that an optimistic artist - provided that we are dealing not with a blissful optimism but rather with a certain pessimism that has overcome itself - it seems to us, then, that this artist is greater, or more useful to his contemporaries, than the nihilist, the hopeless artist. Luis Bunuel is perhaps somewhere between Renoir and Bergman. I believe that Bunuel thinks that people are idiots but that life is amusing; he says this to us with a certain mildness and indirectly but he does say it and it comes out at least out of a great number of his films. (...)

The Bunuelian antipsychological treatment functions on the principle of the Scottish shower – alternating favorable and unfavorable, positive and negative, logical and absurd observations – and it applies to situations as much as it does to the characters. Anti-bourgeois, anti-conformist, sarcastic like Stroheim's but lighter, Bunuel's vision of the world is subversive, readily anarchizing... Bunuel, a gay pessimist, isn't then a hopeless artist but a great skeptical spirit. Observe that he never makes films for but always films against and that none of his characters are depicted as positive. Bunuel's skepticism expresses itself towards all of the people who play a social game that is too precise, towards everyone that is animated by some kind of conviction. Like the writers of the 18th century, Bunuel gives us a lesson of doubt and I believe Jacques Rivette is right in comparing him with Diderot... I suspect that, when he invents a middle-aged character, rather than a young person, Bunuel amuses himself by giving him ideas that he finds the most stupid, counterbalanced by thoughts that are true, profound and logical, his own thoughts. That is what creates the paradox, that is what moves his work away from psychology and brings it closer to life, a mixture of critical and autobiographical observations.

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#59 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 05, 2018 2:20 am

Great read, thanks Rayon! Especially loved this line/observation
Observe that he never makes films for but always films against
I'll have to start digging through Cahiers to see what they said about him (I think there's at least one issue devoted to him as well), but it didn't occur to me there might be literary precedents for their affection

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#60 Post by knives » Fri Jan 05, 2018 2:33 am

To add to Rayon's point I've been finding Bunuel on revisit to be utterly gleeful in his pessimism in a way that almost seems like a long term optimism. This was really clear in Tristana which is undoubtedly a very dark film, but also a fun one that sort of smiles at itself as a small episode. Way back when I misconstrued this as a softness on Bunuel's part, but on my rewatch it strikes me more as a sort of optimist's nihilism where the evil of the world ultimately doesn't matter because it can accomplish only its own reproduction. Even then though Bunuel seems to allow good to fester like a mold.

As to Cahiers, I wonder if the loving familiarity with which Bunuel attacks may have played a role. There's a pretty clear degree of self identification going on with the middle class characters where their follies are endearing, especially in the French films, and they often get to voice Bunuel's opinion. Religion is a square much harder to cube between them though as Bunuel can be quite unrelenting on that front. Maybe they too saw what Welles did when he said something like Bunuel being the most Catholic filmmaker ever, because no one else could hate a religion so much.

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#61 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Jan 05, 2018 2:54 am

I'd also be tempted to equate Bunuel's detachment in his study of humans - in the sense that whatever he sees that's ugly doesn't get him completely down about life as such, or maybe that he's been down in the hole far enough that he's come out at the other end, at least that's the spirit that comes across to me - with his lifelong interest in insects and their constant presence in his film. It's like their presence reminds us he's studying humans like an entomologist would.

Another thing I've noted is really how obsessions play such a large part in what he finds both intriguing and a fit object of critique/ridicule in his films. There's all the sexual and amorous obsessions, but then also all of the religious, and political and social ones, as well. Kind of like the amused perspective that a Zen Buddhist would have at looking at how humans identify themselves completely with their (frequently instinctive or conditioned) desires and mental schemes.

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#62 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:59 am

I see Bunuel as a kindred spirit of both Naruse and Imamura (albeit in somewhat different ways). They all blend dark humor and pessimism -- yet often focus on characters that just keep on trying (even when "success" seems beyond reach). And not only Imamura has a surrealist/absurdist side -- so does Naruse (at least now and then).

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#63 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 05, 2018 12:05 pm

Do they? Just from my recent viewings I'd say neither protagonist or antagonist of Los olvidados perseveres by the end. Archie de la Cruz abandons his murders. Nazarin may still cling to his beliefs by the end, but all of his nascent followers leave and the film is not sympathetic to his stubbornness. Viridiana devolves into pure blasphemy. The Exterminating Angel can not be read from a traditional character motivation standpoint anyways but certainly the whole point there is intentional and willful stasis!

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#64 Post by knives » Fri Jan 05, 2018 12:08 pm

I can see that applying to the last three films though with Discreet Charm making perseverance a clear visual metaphor.

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#65 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:45 pm

I wouldn't say perseverance applies to all of the films.... ;-)

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#66 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 05, 2018 3:18 pm

Five lists in so far and only one film has appeared on every list. Remember, even if you haven't participated in discussion, you can still submit your ranked top ten list to me via PM by next Thursday, January 11th!

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#67 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Jan 05, 2018 3:45 pm

For Don Luis, I will TRY to do a list ...

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#68 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jan 07, 2018 11:42 am

Nine lists in and everyone has still voted for one film in common. Who will be the iconoclast to leave it off their list? I've already seen the most insane Bunuel ballot imaginable and it still included this one! What film could it be???

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#69 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sun Jan 07, 2018 1:17 pm

I left off 2 "standard picks" -- not because I don't admire them a lot but because I love some other less esteemed films even more. I even had to leave off at least one film I "love" for lack of slots...

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#70 Post by knives » Sun Jan 07, 2018 2:36 pm

This probably shows just a different valuation of Bunuel, but I felt myself thinking I wouldn't have minded a tighter competition as I found there to be about four films I absolutely loved and four I liked a lot with the last two slots given to films because I liked the idea of them more than any particularly liking of.

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#71 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Jan 07, 2018 2:44 pm

knives wrote:I found there to be about four films I absolutely loved and four I liked a lot with the last two slots given to films because I liked the idea of them more than any particularly liking of.
That's about the same for me and my list.

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#72 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jan 07, 2018 7:03 pm

Three more lists in and two of the voters shared iconoclast duties. It was a fun run while it lasted, but of course there are no right or wrong choices

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#73 Post by bottled spider » Sun Jan 07, 2018 11:55 pm

Robinson Crusoe
A man is shipwrecked, losing everything. His sole compensation is the freedom to go wild and primitive. Instead he becomes ultra-bourgeois, a sad caricature of it, as if bourgeoisdom were a dormant infection, chickenpox resurfacing malignantly as shingles. So in a way, one of his most scathing and pessimistic films. It's an interesting style of satire, in that the vehicle of satire is a likable man, admirable in his perseverance and resourcefulness, with whose plight we sympathize.

I always liked this, but I must have watched it once too often, because on the last revisit I got very bored with it. The poor quality of the DVD doesn't help; the tropical surroundings makes one crave a sharp Blu-ray image.

Nazarin
I did not by any means consider it one of his better films the first time I saw it, but over the course of several viewings it's grown on me more than any other one. I don't know, that pineapple just really gets me.

Phantom of Liberty
This has one of my favourite endings of all time, and I love the entire final episode leading up to it. It also has a fantastic opening, which segues beautifully into the next episode with the "dirty" pictures. But it has much in it I would shorten or cut altogether. The episode of the shooter in particular is unpleasant and unedifying.

One little highlight: the palette in the episode with the "missing" girl is exceptionally good. The colours of all the clothing and decor, down to the children's exercise books and the telephones complement beautifully.

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#74 Post by knives » Mon Jan 08, 2018 1:28 pm

His Robinson Crusoe is actually an extremely straight forward adaptation with nearly only the Friday stuff being unique to the film and that is only due to Bunuel's underlining the concept. Also Janus has a version streaming that is slightly better transferred than the old DVD.

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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#75 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Jan 08, 2018 8:05 pm

Since Bunuel is one of the 5 directors enshrined as part of my Honorary Top Five Directors List, I found it very easy to find a lot more than 10 films that I love. ;-)

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