Archive for Robert Valette

Donkey O.T.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2008 by dcairns

The Cineastes de Notre Temps series of documentaries should really be released on a big box set with lots of subtitles (no doubt somebody will write in and tell me they HAVE been, which will do me no good because I can’t afford to buy such a thing anyway). The filmmakers profiled are a well-chosen, varied bunch, and still well-regarded today.


Alas, the copy I’ve obtained of the Bunuel interview is a truncated one, taken from a Criterion DVD. I always get frustrated when DVDs include segments of documentaries instead of the whole thing. I can’t believe that 38 mins of this film were massively cheaper to buy than the whole hour would be, and so what if that meant spreading the extras onto a second disc? A blank DVD costs like 10p or something.

But, the film is a splendid one with a fine supporting cast of interviewees, and Don Luis himself a fascinating, mercurial figure. What’s especially enjoyable is the way his own filmmaking ethos emerges during interview. Atop a hill overlooking Toledo, he’s asked about UN CHIEN ANDALOU, but interrupts his answer because a bus is passing. You couldn’t have such an interruption in a drama, unless it’s the roaring off-screen train noise that drowns out essential plot explication in THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY. But the interviewer assures Bunuel that the bus isn’t a problem for this movie. Seconds later, a donkey starts braying furiously from somewhere outside of frame, perhaps bent on vengeance for its slain brothers in UN CHIEN ANDALOU and LAS HURDES (LAND WITHOUT BREAD).

“It’s a donkey!” remarks Bunuel. “Change the camera angle or viewers will think that was us.” The interviewer tries to get back On Topic but Bunuel, a master of offscreen animal noise in his own work, is distracted. “You should do an insert of the donkey.”


“And here it is,” says a helpful V.O. by Michel Piccoli as the donkey is shown passing: a Bunuel shot in a Robert Valette documentary.