For Reel

Viridiana (1961)
April 1, 2016, 7:23 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Luis Buñuel
5 Stars
ViridianaViridiana is notoriously one of the most radical transgressions in film history. It inspired a famous political cartoon in which Francisco Franco is seen welcoming now renowned auteur Luis Buñuel back to Spain, only for Buñuel to present a package titled Viridiana that blows up in the dictator’s face. And yet, if the film does indeed pose an extreme challenge to organized religion, what is memorable about the picture is not how it challenges institutions per se, but about how it interprets a certain disconnect that happens when the privileged aspire to be virtuous. In one of the film’s most famous images, the eponymous character’s cousin (Francisco Rabal) saves a dog from the cruel fate of being dragged by a wagon, risking strangulation should it not keep up. Few images elicit audience empathy more than animal cruelty, and so this noble act immediately characterizes the cousin as a man of character. Only seconds thereafter, Buñuel upends the whole tone of the scene by focusing on another dog in an identical situation going the other way across the road, our do-gooder oblivious to it. The scene is a perfect summarization of everything the film is about—Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) ultimately fails in her charitable act of bringing together the town’s disenfranchised because of a fundamental misunderstanding of how difficult it is to change one’s nature—but it also allows the audience to participate in Buñuel’s themes. Our momentary satisfaction at the salvation of one animal does nothing in the battle against a way of life in which cruelty to animals is a deep-rooted pattern.

Tristana (1970)
April 21, 2012, 6:35 am
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Director: Luis Buñuel

In many ways the quintessential example of late-period Buñuel, Tristana is an ample showcase of a number of the director’s biggest interests: obsession, sadomasochism, religion, and so on. Set in Toledo, Spain and starring Catherine Deneuve (in her second collaboration with him following Belle de Jour), Tristana is based on a book by heralded Spanish novelist Benito Pérez Galdós. Fernando Rey is Don Lope, an atheist nobleman who falls in love with his adopted daughter (as played by Deneuve) when she reaches her late teens. Soon, she leaves him for a much younger man, only to return years later after she has fallen ill with a tumor that will leave her an amputee. Buñuel’s concern is power – Tristana, an object of Don Lope’s pleasure, eventually seeks vengeance on the man who took her virginity. It is the stuff of preposterous melodrama – and, frankly, it can sometimes be difficult to see it as anything more – but Buñuel is fully in control and, more significantly, entirely self aware. Early in the picture, for example, Don Lope quips that the only way to keep a woman honest is to break her leg so that she cannot leave home. With bitter, hilarious irony, it is the crippled Tristana that is the catalyst for Don Lope’s downfall. Just as the director’s final film, That Obscure Object of Desire, would be, Tristana‘s structure is almost entirely symmetrical – the shifting power dynamic happens roughly half-way into the picture, or at least it is then that Tristana’s youthful exuberance is shown to have been quelled and Don Lope’s demise begins. This sense of inevitability is echoed in the final frames of the film in which Buñuel, as if having pressed rewind, traces back glimpses of key moments in the relationship.

The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954)
April 21, 2012, 2:38 am
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Director: Luis Buñuel

A fascinating departure in Luis Buñuel’s oeuvre, The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe was the surrealist’s first American-funded film, his first film in color, and the only film that he completed entirely in English. Dan O’Herlihy, Oscar-nominated for the role (eventually losing out to Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront), stars as the titular Crusoe, who finds himself deserted on an island along with only a cat and a dog. Those anticipating the fanciful delusions familiar of Buñuel’s work might find themselves disappointed, however early on there is a remarkable hallucination sequence in which Crusoe glimpses his ever-disapproving father. The specter washes a pig while speaking to Crusoe in a sing-song cadence, and Buñuel’s editors, Carlos Savage and Alberto E. Valenzuela, cut to shots of the father drowning in the sea and a parched Crusoe on a beach in the midst of it. Buñuel’s pictures were not typified merely by their aesthetic values, however, and where it fits into his canon is in the film’s heavy Christian symbology and in the complex moral attitudes that it addresses through the use of a reformed cannibal that Crusoe takes into his custody. For Code-era Hollywood, there is a surprising scene in which Friday, the savage, poses Crusoe logical inquires about the nature of God to which he has no reply. Beyond these pleasures, it’s a well-paced and beautifully-filmed adaptation – filled with golden and green hues by cinematographer Alex Phillips – that successfully brings Daniel Defoe’s novel to the screen without compromising either the source material or Buñuel’s sensibilities as a storyteller.