For the past two weeks, I've had a delightful time watching ten films by the great Spanish director Luis Buñuel (1900-1983). It's been like taking a "creativity shower." (These films are all available on DVD through Netflix).
Most of the films I saw were from his later years, 1960 onwards, when Buñuel was past sixty. These are generally regarded as his best works.
Indeed, for someone who just turned sixty, I find it quite motivating to see an artist whose best work is not from his thirties or forties, but from his sixties and seventies! (I think some of this can attributed to Buñuel's ongoing collaboration with the screen-writer Jean-Claude Carrière).
Buñuel, the man whom Alfred Hitchcock called the "greatest director ever," draws you right into his stories. And once you're there, almost anything can happen — he's constantly surprising you with his imagination. Three main themes in his work appealed to me:
1. Life is paradoxical: something can mean one thing, and it can also mean another.
2. Life is mysterious: unexpected and unpredictable things happen.
3. The spiritual takes different forms: it's important to be open to it.
All in all, I found watching Buñuel a great way to stretch my mind.
These are the films I watched. I'll list them in the order I viewed them. It was a very enjoyable ride. (I put an * next to my three favorites.)
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). With Fernando Rey. Winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. A group of six friends tries to have a meal together but a succession of highly unusual occurrences interferes. The interruptions become more and more surreal as the movie goes on. Some intriguing dream sequences. Lots of fun!
*That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). With Fernando Rey. Nominated for a screenplay Oscar. A man on a train explains to his fellow passengers (through flashbacks) how he came to madly desire a young woman (on whom he had dumped a bucket of water when the train left the station). A tantalizing tale! I loved the two Conchitas. A great film!
Diary of A Chambermaid (1965). With Jeanne Moreau. A Parisian chambermaid takes a job at a country estate in the late 1920s. Her employers and her co-workers are strange. A young girl is murdered in the woods. Fascinating study of class, politics (emerging fascism), and gender roles.
*Viridiana (1961). With Fernando Rey and Silvia Pinal. Winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Franco invited Buñuel back to Spain to make this film. When it was released, it was banned in Spain. A young woman who is about to take her vows is invited to visit her dying Uncle. Many strange and unusual things ensue. The homeless people's re-staging of the "Last Supper" is priceless.
The Young One aka White Trash (1960). In English. Buñuel examines race relations in the United States. A black jazz musician wrongly accused of rape escapes to an island where a white game warden and his young ward are the only residents. Fascinating study of racism in America.
*The Milky Way (1969). The adventures of two modern day pilgrims who travel from Paris to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Wherever they go, they meet people who are totally absorbed in matters relating to Christian dogma and heresy. Takes place in multiple eras with appearances by the Marquis de Sade and Jesus Christ. Full of mystery. A mind-jolting, remarkable film.
Belle de Jour (1967). With Catherine Deneuve. Won the Golden Lion at Venice. A frigid newlywed becomes a daytime call girl to satisfy her desires and curiosity. Some wonderful dream and imagination sequences.
The Phantom of Liberty (1974). One of Luis Bunuel's most free-form films. It consists of a series of vaguely inter-related episodes that show how our notions and freedom are culturally based. Quite thought-provoking. One of its most famous scenes is dinner party where people sit on lavatories around a
dinner table and then retire one at a time to a little room down the hall to eat.
Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L'Age D'Or (1930). These were Buñuel's first two films (done in collaboration with Salvador Dali and Max Ernst). They're short and pure surrealism. "Un Chien Andalou" features the famous slitting of the eyeball scene. "L'Age D'Or's" premiere was disrupted the Fascist League of Patriots. Buñuel came from these early efforts.
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What are your favorite Buñuel films?