Archive for Bunuel

Spring Chicken

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2023 by dcairns

More chicken abuse in Bunuel’s LA JOVEN/THE YOUNG ONE, a really fascinating suspense piece with a bunch of mismatched characters on an island game preserve.

Various animals turn up and suffer — a tarantula is stamped on by the barefoot young heroine, combining Bunuel’s arachnophobia with his foot fetish. A chicken is gorily dismembered by a raccoon. As with LAS HURDES/LAND WITHOUT BREAD, one is less bothered by the sight of animals doing the unpleasant things that come naturally to them, than by the fact that Bunuel has staged it all. Real death in a fictional context. I think probably it’s a bad idea, even ignoring the ethical aspect — real death or sex seems to disrupt drama, expose the artifice. Anyway, I don’t like it.

Zachary Scott — never shy about playing nasty pieces of work, is a racist AND a child rapist; Bernie Hamilton, the captain from Starsky & Hutch, is much thinner here, as a jazz musician on the run, falsely accused of rape. Bunuel said the film confused Americans because the Black man was both good and bad — he isn’t really, it’s just that the film boldly doesn’t bother to affirm his innocence until it’s halfway through. You have to decide to root for him in a state of anxious doubt, but I think you do root for him, or what I mean is *I* did. I’m using the Kaelian “you” which means “me.”

Claudio Brook, Bunuel’s SIMON OF THE DESERT, is a typically ineffectual priest. And the title character is Key Meersman, whose only other film is ARTURO’S ISLAND, meaning she acted only on islands. She’s not too strong on dialogue (her director may have been of limited assistance, with his somewhat faltering English) but her visual expressivity is on the money. And she has a short way with spiders, which one has to respect.

A haunting film, and it has a great acoustic version of Sinner Man as its only score.

The Rooster Story

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2023 by dcairns

Bunuel’s THE BRUTE/EL BRUTO (1953) is a pretty good noir with right-on politics but maybe a little simplistic by his high standards, and maybe not as Bunuelian was one would hope. A slum landlord hires the titular Brute (Pedro Armendariz, no moustache) as muscle, but the man-of-hench is torn between the landlord’s smoldering wife (Katy Jurado) and the daughter of a slum-dweller he’s involulantary-manslaughtered in the line of henching.

Bunuel has far more fun with the landlord’s grotesque household than he does with the decent folks struggling to preserve their crummy homes, and gets caught in the same trap he vociferously accused MIRACLE IN MILAN of falling into — virtuous poor people and awful rich people. “What is the incentive to get out of poverty if to be poor is to be so noble?” he asked I think Octavio Paz. “Social injustice corrupts at every level! The rich are better able to protect themselves from it!” Bunuel was adept at skewering the underlying nastiness beneath the discreet charm, but the poor people in VIRIDIANA and LOS OLVIDADOS are scary and horrible because, one assumes, of the lives they’re forced to lead.

The end of the film is pretty Bunuelian, though, if you can stand a spoiler. Katy J, betrayed by Armendariz, engineers his death, and then… looks at a rooster.

It could be a sop to the censor, like Bette Davis staring at the moonlight on the stairs in THE LITTLE FOXES — a character has committed evil acts and won, so we have to show that despite appearances she won’t be happy, may in fact be driven mad by consciousness of guilt. And it’s quite an imaginative way of suggesting that. But what makes it even better is that it’s not too readily interpreted. It’s Herzogian, both in the sense of implying some grand surreal allegory that can’t quite be formulated in non-abstract terms, and in the sense that it depends on an understanding that chickens are terrifying.

Exterminating Archie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2023 by dcairns

ENSAYO DE UN CRIMEN/THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ is a particularly loopy Bunuel comedy. Ever since Pierre Batcheff discovered that the path of true love must by traversed while dragging two priests and a piano full of oozing donkeys, Bunuel’s films, especially the funny ones, have centred on frustration. (A critical comparison ought to be possible with the CARRY ON films.) Archibaldo is a serial killer who never seems able to actually kill anyone, though I personally think he bears some responsibility for the nun falling down the elevator shaft.

Every Bunuel fetish seems at play in this one, and as Alex Cox pointed out in a long-ago Film4 intro, when Archie transports his magic music box to a lake for disposal, the sack he transports it in is identical to that dragged by Fernando Rey in THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE — a case of films linking up mysteriously across decades and continents.

Ernesto Alonso is quite amazing as Archibaldo, sort of creepy but sort of charming. Totally real and committed. One can almost feel sorry for the way fate cock-blocks his homicidal plans at every turn. I had the pleasure of chatting to a Distinguished Comedy Legend today on the phone and he told me that farce depended on planting characters in virtually impossible situations in which the only possible action is an absurdity, and letting them react logically — therefore absurdly. Bunuel’s films sometimes approach farce structure — if, as I believe, EXTERMINATING ANGEL is a kind of abstract disaster movie, it’s also kind of a farce, complete with people hiding in a closet (although here they do it to commit suicide).

ENSAYO is often quite straight farce, of an almost British kind, since Archie’s murderous impulses are basically sexual. Our crappiest farces have historically been about would-be adulterers or actual bigamists being threatened with embarrassing exposure or being thwarted at every turn in their Lothariostic endeavours.

The moment of most Bunuelian beauty is the appearance of Miroslava through flames, first in the nightclub where ADC first espies her, secondly when he cremates a mannequin made in her image (his hobby is pottery, he has an enormous kiln, the neighbours complain — it’s very VERDOUX/Landru, except nary an actual corpse goes up in smoke.)