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June 17 - June 27

Buñuel - The Beginning and the End

The filmmaking career of Luis Buñuel (1900 -1983) followed a peripatetic path, beginning and ending in France, with a long detour to the Americas in between. After a thoroughly bourgeois upbringing in the Aragon province of Spain, Buñuel moved to Madrid in 1917 to study at what is now the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. There he became part of the capital’s vital avant-garde circles, befriending – most famously – Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí. He immigrated to Paris in 1925, where he became fascinated with cinema and made his first film, in collaboration with Dalí: the Surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou (1928). The film’s dream logic construction, the theme of thwarted desire and its subversive indictment of religion all were essential Buñuel – as was the accompanying uproar and condemnation. Buñuel’s insubordinate mockery of all sacred institutions – public and domestic – would lead to a convoluted path in and out of trouble with the powers he continued to excoriate cinematically.

After managing to find financing for two more subversive, iconic and iconoclastic projects—L’Age d’Or (1930) and Land Without Bread (1933)—Buñuel went more than a decade without making another film. In part, this was due to the rise of Fascism in Europe; when the Republic was overturned, Buñuel —who had been working for the Spanish Republican government—happened to be in New York, so he stayed in the US. On the other hand, his body of work at that point did not pave the way to a career in Hollywood either; although he was briefly under contract at MGM, he worked at Warner Bros. during World War II, supervising the dubbing of films into Spanish.

Nevertheless, Buñuel clearly spent these years on the fringes of the film industry carefully absorbing what he could of the production process. When he began to work in Mexico as a director in 1947, he earned a reputation for being extremely calm, prepared and efficient during shooting. Although Buñuel spent roughly fifteen years making movies in Mexico, this period of his career was later eclipsed by its final chapter. The critical stock of Buñuel’s Mexican films has been steadily on the rise in recent years, and we hope to present them in a separate program in the near future.

In 1961, Buñuel managed to receive permission to shoot Viridiana in Spain, and the success of that film and the subsequent The Exterminating Angel (1962) at the Cannes Film Festival helped pave the way for the final phase of his career. Producer Serge Silberman brought Buñuel to France to make Diary of a Chambermaid and paired the director with writer Jean-Claude Carrière. The collaboration between writer and director would continue for five subsequent films, until Buñuel’s retirement to Mexico City following That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). The acclaim granted these collaborations led to the worldwide recognition of Buñuel’s genius as a filmmaker.

This program brings together the films from the beginning and the end of Buñuel’s career. While his Mexican films incorporated elements of genre cinema, Buñuel’s early and late films show him coming full circle. The later European films, with their play with narrative form, their fascination with perversity and its discontents, and their casual mixing of the refined, the grotesque and the absurd, reveal an artist of the avant-garde returning to his roots in Surrealism. – David Pendleton

Film descriptions by Brittany Gravely and David Pendleton


Friday June 17 at 7pm

Un chien andalou

Directed by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. With Simone Mareuil,
Pierre Batcheff
France 1928, 35mm, b/w, 28 min.

The opening sequence of Buñuel’s first film contains one of the most indelible images, and most primal “cuts”, in film history- the chillingly tranquil slicing of an eyeball with a razor blade. From there, Buñuel and collaborator Salvador Dalí use a Surrealist version of narrative to thread together sequences involving a heterosexual couple, a disembodied hand and a rotting carcass inside a piano. “The way I see it, the film is nothing more than a public call to murder.”—Luis Buñuel


L'Age d'Or

Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Gaston Modot, Lya Lys, Max Ernst
France 1930, 35mm, b/w, 63 min. French with English subtitles

Realizing his goal of enraging fascists, Catholics, the bourgeoisie, and his general audience in this follow-up to Un Chien Andalou, Buñuel proved too radical this time for even Salvador Dali, who quickly distanced himself from this explosive cinematic revolution. Slyly beginning as an innocuous documentary on scorpions, this surreal masterpiece evolves into a love story in which the lovers are routinely blocked from realizing their love by the complexes of society and their own psyches. Even more miraculous that it was one of the earliest sound films – and incidentally, the first to use interior dialogue – L’Age d’Or is a decadent, jarring Freudian dreamscape that has maintained its horror, eroticism and taboo — provoking on planes both conscious and subconscious.

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Friday June 17 at 9pm

Tristana

Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Catherine Deneuve, Fernando Rey,
Lola Gaos
Spain/France/Italy 1970, 35mm, color, 95 min.
Spanish with French subtitles (English subtitles will be digitally projected)

After the death of her mother, the beautiful and impressionable Tristana is taken under the wing of Don Lope. An aging Don Juan with an outdated, hypocritical code of honor, he defiles Tristana’s body and her spirit – alternately treating her as his child or his lover, a lady or a servant. The selfish manipulations backfire in subversively subtle Buñuelian fashion – unnaturally transforming the young swan into a fickle monster of Don Lope’s own making. Mistreated and misshapen in one way or another, all characters in the film suffer under misuse of aristocratic power, as they play out Buñuel’s psychoanalysis of loathing and desire within the narrow, disorienting streets and faded palette of 1920’s Toledo – aging prematurely under corrupt conditions.

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Saturday June 18 at 7pm

Viridiana

Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Silvia Pinai, Fernando Rey, Francisco Rabal
Mexico/Spain 1961, 35mm, b/w, 90 min. Spanish with English subtitles

Before cloistering herself forever from the world outside, Viridiana pays a final visit to her estranged, dying uncle. She meets her secular match in the wealthy, old hermit who has dedicated himself to his dead bride and her sacred garments just as Viridiana prays to her god and carries his material symbols. Horrified by the uncle’s sins and perhaps by her own profanity, she graciously transforms the estate into a ramshackle homeless commune – the presence of which is complicated by the arrival of her urban, libertine cousin. This mixed-up utopia viciously devolves into a gorgeously grotesque, hallucinatory beggars banquet – forcing Viridiana to come to terms with the contradictory in a complex compromise. Banned for years in Spain and denounced by the Vatican, Viridiana is a miraculous vision of cruelty and compassion.

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Saturday June 18 at 9pm

That Obscure Object of Desire
(Cet obscur objet du désir)

Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Fernando Rey, Carole Bouquet,
Ángela Molina
France 1977, 35mm, color, 102 min. French with English subtitles

Throughout Buñuel’s final tour de force, everyone pleads for an explanation for the inexplicable, and the entire story unfolds as an explanation for a simple, yet incongruous act. Buñuel’s standard selection for the urbane gentleman, Fernando Rey – dubbed in French by another Buñuel regular Michel Piccoli – plays a man obsessed with the unpredictable and elusive Conchita. Likewise, she is played by two actresses – Carole Bouquet capturing a coy French elegance and Ángela Molina exposing voluptuous Spanish turbulence. Conchita – like Buñuelian cinema – may resort to traditional courtship techniques, yet she can never be merely depicted much less consumed. She forbids Mathieu to completely possess her and he will not marry her, thus their torturous alliance reaches vindictive, debasing levels. Mounting terrorist violence underscores and expands the relationship between sex, violence and politics to include all of us in a comically maddening cycle of animal instincts erupting beneath the trappings of civilization.

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Sunday June 19 at 7pm

Land Without Bread (Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan)

Directed by Luis Buñuel.
Spain 1933, 35mm, b/w, 28 min. In English

Upon reading an ethnographic study of the poorest district of northern Spain, Las Hurdes, Buñuel decided to film there. The resulting work has remained controversial since its premiere, when it was banned by the Spanish government. Buñuel juxtaposes documentary images of human degradation, often posed or staged, with a voiceover commentary – written by the poet Pierre Unik – that combines travelogue exaggeration with a matter-of-fact recounting of the grim cost of rural poverty. Further, the soundtrack impassively adds music by Brahms and – in English-language versions at least – a flat-voiced reading of the commentary. The combination has led commentators to label the film everything from an impassioned cry of anger to a callous and callow documentary to a Surrealist parody of ethnography.


Simon of the Desert (Simón del desierto)

Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Silvia Pinal, Claudio Brook,
Enrique Álvarez Félix
Mexico 1965, 35mm, b/w, 45 min. Spanish with English subtitles.

Perched atop a pillar in the middle of the desert in eternal penance for six years, six months, and six days, Simon – inspired by 5th century Saint Simeon Stylites – seeks spiritual purification through this rather spectacular means. Doling out miracles, prophesies, and words of wisdom to his fickle followers, Simon’s encounters elicit a string of blasphemous comedy routines occasionally anticipating those of Monty Python. His faith is ritually tested by the devil who reappears in various feminine incarnations - accounting for most of the matter-of-fact surrealist moments that would become signature late Buñuel. With as ascetic an aesthetic as Simon’s, the last film Buñuel made while exiled in Mexico is a richly compact allegory. The cynical tone – balancing somewhere between mockery and sympathy – is consummated by a whirlwind ending which is as incredulously shocking as it is completely appropriate.

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Monday June 20 at 7pm

The Milky Way (La voie lactée)

Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Paul Frankeur, Laurent Terzieff, Alain Cuny
France 1969, 35mm, color, 98 min. French with English subtitles

On a pilgrimage of sorts, two tramps take a journey through time and space on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Often oblivious to the symbolism or significance of their bizarre encounters, these two everymen are unwitting travelers through Buñuel’s heretical history of Christianity where mystery, miracles, and visions proliferate. Jesus, the Holy Virgin, the Marquis de Sade, Death and bishops, nuns, priests, prostitutes, vagabonds, and 20th Century bourgeoisie debate all matter of Christian paradoxes – from the Holy Trinity to the Eucharist. Like the mad priest whose neuroses are triggered when he is contradicted, the scenarios petulantly illustrate the close-minded circular logic and ever-changing “absolute” truths of those who throughout civilization, have wielded great power over the fates of their followers. A non-linear manuscript of vivid tableaux and ingenious transitions, Buñuel leaves no theological stone unturned in this thorough upheaval of Christianity’s dark side.

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Friday June 24 at 7pm

The Exterminating Angel (El ángel exterminador)

Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Silvia Pinal, Jacqueline Andere,
Enrique Rambal
Mexico 1962, 35mm, b/w, 94 min. Spanish with English subtitles.

Emerging at the dawn of his nouveau “French period,” this extraordinary apparition from Buñuel takes the form of one of his favorite social stages: the dinner party. Imprisoned within their own nonsensical social structure “out of politeness,” the guests cannot escape their own soiree. Ridiculous party banter, veiled insults and invented scandals give way to outrageous carnal depravity exposing their true ugliness. Buñuel takes the critique beyond simple satire – such as when they slaughter sheep meant for household entertainment. In fact, the very fabric of time and space immobilizes them in discontinuity, repetition, and a confusion of reality and fantasy – drawing parallels to the spectating theater audience. Providing inspiration for Godard’s Weekend, The Exterminating Angel is a hysterical revolt against oppressive civilization and its willing victims.

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Friday June 24 at 9pm

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie
(Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie)

Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Fernando Rey, Delphine Seyrig,
Paul Frankeur
France 1972, 35mm, color 102 min. French with English subtitles.

Buñuel’s most successful film, which won the 1972 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, once again places a group of bourgeois friends in dinner party purgatory. Continually interrupted from eating by strange events, the diners are perennially unsatisfied, yet driven to play out their polite social rituals nevertheless. Meanwhile, the elegant costumes, good manners, and meaningless small talk hides drug trafficking, affairs, political intrigue and vengeful murder. Absurd reminders of their hypocrisy and doom constantly resurface via apparitions, premonitions, dreams, and dreams within dreams, yet they never seem to “wake up.” No standard cinematic fare, the seamlessly surreal satire features a charming ensemble cast playing social actors who are doomed to play their parts ad infinitum.

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Saturday June 25 at 7pm

Belle de Jour

Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel,
Michel Piccoli
France 1967, 35mm, color, 101 min. French with English subtitles

Though the most popular of Buñuel’s films from his late French period, Belle de Jour may also be one of the most radical. The film is perhaps as duplicitous as its lovely protagonist Séverine. Appearing to lead a respectable existence with a successful, handsome husband, she behaves icily chaste with patient Pierre in the bedroom while secretly indulging in fetishistic daydreams. Caught between the gaze of saintly Pierre and that of lecherous men like his friend Husson, she begins to lead another life at a nearby brothel. Her sexual and emotional needs may be deeper, stranger and more complex than either man could ever allow in their rigidly circumscribed narratives. Or are they? Belle de Jour is a pristine psycho-cinematic puzzle – imparting to the viewers as much or as little profundity as they are willing to entertain.

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Saturday June 25 at 9:15pm

Phantom of Liberty (Le fantôme de la liberté)

Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Julien Bertheau, Miléna Vukotic,
Jean Rochefort
France 1974, 35mm, color, 104 min. French with English subtitles

“I’m sick of symmetry,” states Monsieur Foucauld as he repositions his preserved spider above the mantel. Achieving total Buñuelian liberation from the despotic narrative form, this elegant labyrinth of contradictory, dream-like scenarios – each of which breaks-off and follows a different character – maintains a curious unity of its own. Never explicit or predictable in its sly comedy, Buñuel presents a deadpan inversion of normalcy that plays upon the tension between paradox, ambiguity and taboo: police searching for a missing girl that is not missing, modern guests seated at toilets around a table, a military roadblock due to a fox sighting. Upsetting and opening up expectation, the film resembles a conversation with a child; it is a playfully relentless reconsideration of our accepted existences where conclusion would suggest not liberty, but death.

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Sunday June 26 at 7pm

Diary of a Chambermaid
(Le Journal d’une Femme de Chambre)

Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Jeanne Moreau, Michel Piccoli,
Georges Géret
France 1965, 35mm, b/w, 101 min. French with English subtitles

Set in the 1930s French countryside, the first of several films Buñuel co-wrote with Jean-Claude Carrière (who also plays a cleric in the film) is sardonically laced with absurd perversions of classism and fascism. The chambermaid of the title is the enigmatic Parisian Célestine who is besieged as soon as she steps off of the train by the frustrated desires and eccentric obsessions of the Montreils, a rural bourgeois clan at war with each other, the neighbors, and “foreigners” at large. When one of them commits a sordid crime, the avenging Célestine takes an unpredictable, mystifying path. Everywhere she goes, she cannot escape one of Buñuel’s famous fetish objects, the boot – titillating, incriminating, and ultimately pointing the way to a greater, darker march on the horizon.

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Monday June 27 at 7pm

Tristana

Directed by Luis Buñuel. With Catherine Deneuve, Fernando Rey,
Lola Gaos
Spain/France/Italy 1970, 35mm, color, 95 min.
Spanish with French subtitles (English subtitles will be digitally projected)

After the death of her mother, the beautiful and impressionable Tristana is taken under the wing of Don Lope. An aging Don Juan with an outdated, hypocritical code of honor, he defiles Tristana’s body and her spirit – alternately treating her as his child or his lover, a lady or a servant. The selfish manipulations backfire in subversively subtle Buñuelian fashion – unnaturally transforming the young swan into a fickle monster of Don Lope’s own making. Mistreated and misshapen in one way or another, all characters in the film suffer under misuse of aristocratic power, as they play out Buñuel’s psychoanalysis of loathing and desire within the narrow, disorienting streets and faded palette of 1920’s Toledo – aging prematurely under corrupt conditions.

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