Luis Buñuel

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Leader: eugenedebs
Criteri di appartenenza: Aperto
Data creazione: 12 Mag 2007

Buñuel was born in Calanda, Teruel in the region of Aragón, Spain. His parents were Leonardo Buñuel and María Portolés; his two brothers were named Alfonso and Leonardo, while his four sisters were Alicia, Concepción, Margarita and María. He had a strict Jesuit education at the Colegio del Salvador and went to university in Madrid. While studying at the University of Madrid (current-day Universidad Complutense de Madrid) he became a very close friend of painter Salvador Dalí and poet Federico García Lorca, among other important Spanish artists living in the student dormitories. Buñuel first studied the natural sciences and agronomy, then engineering at the University, but later switched to philosophy. After the death of his father in 1923, Buñuel felt a great need to leave Spain and, in 1925, he moved to Paris where he began work as a secretary in an organization called the International Society of Intellectual Cooperation. He later found work in France as a director's assistant to Jean Epstein on Mauprat and Mario Nalpas on La Sirène des Tropiques and he co-wrote and then filmed a 16 minute short film Un chien andalou (1929) with Salvador Dalí. This film, featuring a series of startling and sometimes horrifying images of Freudian nature (such as the slow slicing of a woman's eyeball with a razor blade) was enthusiastically received by French surrealists of the time, and continues to be shown regularly in film societies to this day.

He followed this with L'Âge d'Or (1930), partly based on the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom. The film was begun as a second collaboration with Dalí but became Buñuel's solo project due to a falling-out they had before filming began. During this film he worked around his technical ignorance by filming mostly in sequence and using nearly every foot of film that he shot. L'Âge d’or was read to be an attack on Catholicism, and thus, precipitated an even larger scandal than Un chien andalou. The right-wing press criticized the film and the police placed a ban on it that lasted fifty years.

Following L'Âge d’or, Buñuel returned to Spain and directed Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (Land Without Bread, 1933), a documentary on peasant life. It was during this time that Francisco Franco was slowly gaining power in Spain. In 1936, the Spanish Civil War had begun. Times were changing fast and Buñuel could see that someone with his political and artistic sensibilities would have no place in a fascist Spain. He co-wrote and produced a documentary short about this, España 1936.

In the United States
After the Spanish Civil War Buñuel got exiled and moved to the United States. After working in the film archives of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Buñuel moved to Hollywood to capitalize on the short-lived fad of producing completely new foreign-language versions of hit films for sales abroad. After Buñuel worked on a few Spanish-language remakes, the industry turned instead to re-dubbing of dialogue. First he moved to Hollywood, and not finding work, went back to New York. There, he worked at the Museum of Modern Art, where he re-edited a shorter version of Leni Riefenstahl's documentary on Hitler, Triumph of the Will. After being denounced by Dalí as a communist and an atheist, he resigned from the MOMA and went back to Hollywood where he worked in the dubbing department of Warner Brothers.

In 1972, Buñuel, along with his screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière and producer Serge Silberman, was invited by George Cukor to his house. This gathering was particularly memorable and other invitees included Alfred Hitchcock, Rouben Mamoulian, Robert Mulligan, George Stevens, Billy Wilder, Robert Wise and William Wyler.[1]

Mexican era
Buñuel arrived in Mexico in 1946 at the age of 46, and, despite having previously had no interest whatsoever in Latin America, ended up getting Mexican citizenship in 1949. The first film he directed there was the Gran Casino (1946), produced by Oscar Dancigers. Buñuel found the plot boring and it was not hugely successful. He later again collaborated with Dancigers in creating El Gran Calavera (1949), a successful film starring Fernando Soler. As Buñuel himself has stated, he learned the techniques of directing and editing while shooting El Gran Calavera. Its success at the box-office encouraged Dancigers to accept the production of a more ambitious film for which Buñuel, apart from writing the script, had complete freedom to direct. The result was his critically acclaimed Los Olvidados (1950), a masterpiece of urban surrealism (and recently considered by UNESCO as part of the world's cultural heritage). Los Olvidados (and its triumph at Cannes) made Buñuel an instant world celebrity and the most important Spanish-speaking film director in the world.

Buñuel spent most of his later life in Mexico, where he directed 21 films. Some of them are masterpieces of world cinema, and were highly acclaimed, especially in European festivals. Among them we find:

Él (1952)
Ensayo de un crimen (The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz) (1955)
Nazarín (1958) (based on a novel by Spain's Benito Pérez Galdós, and adapted by Buñuel to a Mexican context)
Viridiana (1961) (coproduction Mexico-Spain and winner at Cannes)
El Ángel Exterminador (The Exterminating Angel) (1962)
Simón del desierto (Simon of the Desert) (1965).

French era
After the golden age of the Mexican film industry was over, Buñuel started to work in France along with producer Serge Silberman and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière. During this "French Period" Buñuel directed some of his best-known works: Le Journal d'une femme de chambre (Diary of a Chambermaid), free adaptation of the famous Octave Mirbeau's novel Le journal d'une femme de chambre ; Belle de Jour ; Cet obscur objet du désir (That Obscure Object of Desire) ; and Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) - as well as some equally brilliant but lesser-known films such as The Phantom of Liberty and La Voie lactée (The Milky Way).

After the release of Cet obscur objet du désir (1977) he retired from film making, and wrote (with Carrière) an autobiography, Mon Dernier Soupir (English: My Last Sigh), published in 1982, which provides an account of Buñuel's interesting life, friends, and family as well as a representation of his eccentric personality. In it he recounts bizarre dreams, interesting encounters with many well known artists, actors, and writers such as Picasso and Charlie Chaplin, and antics such as dressing up as a nun and walking around town. As one might deduce from these antics, Buñuel was famous for his atheism. In a 1960 interview with Michele Manceaux in L'Express, Buñuel famously declared: "I am still, thank God, an atheist."

What is less well-known is that Buñuel almost seemed to repudiate this statement in a 1977 article in The New Yorker. "I'm not a Christian, but I'm not an atheist, either", he said. "I'm weary of hearing that accidental old aphorism of mine, 'I'm not an atheist, thank God.' It's outworn. Dead leaves. In 1951, I made a small film called Mexican Bus Ride, about a village too poor to support a church and a priest. The place was serene, because no one suffered from guilt. It's guilt we must escape from, not God."

He married Jeanne Rucar in a town hall in Paris in 1934 and they remained married throughout his life. His sons are film-maker Rafael Buñuel and Juan Luis Buñuel.

He died in Mexico City in 1983.

Famous are his scenes where chickens populate nightmares, women grow beards, and aspiring saints are desired by luscious women. Even in the many movies he made for hire (rather than for his own creative reasons), such as Susana, Robinson Crusoe, and The Great Madcap, he always added his trademark of disturbing and surreal images. Running through his own films is a backbone of surrealism; Buñuel's world is one in which an entire dinner party suddenly finds themselves inexplicably unable to leave the room and go home, a bad dream hands a man a letter which he brings to the doctor the next day, and where the devil, if unable to tempt a saint with a pretty girl, will fly him to a disco. Buñuel kept the faith longer than any other surrealist in any medium, and true to those roots, he never explained or promoted his work. On one occasion, when his son was interviewed about The Exterminating Angel, Buñuel instructed him to give facetious answers; for example, when asked about the presence of a bear in the socialites' house, Buñuel fils claimed it was because his father liked bears. Similarly, the several repeated scenes in the film were explained as having been put there to increase the running time.

Religious influence
Many of his films were openly critical of middle class morals and organized religion, mocking the pretension and hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church in ways that are often (then and now) mistaken for vicious and overt anti-clericalism. Many of his most (in)famous films demonstrate this:

Un chien andalou (1929) -- A man drags pianos, upon which are piled two dead donkeys, two priests, and the tablets of The Ten Commandments.
L'Age D'Or (1930) -- A bishop is thrown out a window, and in the final scene one of the culprits of the 120 days of sodom by Marquis de Sade is portrayed by an actor dressed in a way that he would be recognized as Jesus.
Ensayo de un crimen (1955) -- A man dreams of murdering his wife while she's praying in bed dressed all in white.
Simón del desierto (1965) -- The devil tempts the saint by taking the form of a naughty, bare-breasted little girl singing and showing off her legs. At the end of the film, the saint abandons his ascetic life to hang out in a jazz club.
Nazarin (1959) -- The pious lead character wreaks ruin through his attempts at charity.
Viridiana (1961) -- A well-meaning young nun tries unsuccessfully to help the poor.
La Voie Lactée (1969) -- Two men travel the ancient pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela and meet embodiments of various heresies along the way. One dreams of anarchists shooting the Pope.
The story of the making of Viridiana is illustrative. Buñuel's earlier Spanish and French films from the 1930s were regarded as cinema landmarks -- Un Chien Andalou, L'Age D'Or, and Las Hurdes (also known as Tierra sin Pan or Land Without Bread) (1933). The advent of the Spanish civil war in 1936, however, caused the expatriation of many artists and intellectuals from the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, whose military revolt and rise to power had had the strong backing of the Spanish Catholic hierarchy.

Had Buñuel stayed in Spain, his fate might have been the same as that of his friend, poet Federico García Lorca, who was assassinated at the outset of Franco's military revolt. After some years of artistic silence forced by the difficult circumstances of his expatriation, Buñuel, then residing in Mexico, returned in full force to writing and directing with some of his best films, which once more won him international acclaim.

In 1960, for political propaganda reasons, Franco instructed his minister of culture to invite the country's most famous filmmaker to return to Spain to direct a film of his choice. Buñuel accepted and proceeded to make Viridiana, promptly departing from the country after finishing the film, but leaving a few official copies. After viewing them, the copies were burned by the dictator's authorities. The minister of culture was reprimanded for having passed the screenplay in the first place. A copy of Viridiana, however, had been smuggled to France, where it proceeded to win the Palme D'Or of the Cannes International Film Festival. The film was banned in Spain, but got international attention and praise (with some exceptions). The Vatican's official press organ, l'Osservatore Romano, published an article calling "Viridiana" an insult not only to Catholicism, but to Christianity itself.

Filming style and technique
Buñuel's style of directing was extremely economical. He shot films in a few weeks, never deviating from his script and shooting in order as much as possible to minimize editing time. He told actors as little as possible, and limited his directions mostly to physical movements ("move to the right", "walk down the hall and go through that door", etc.). He often refused to answer actors' questions and was known to simply turn off his hearing aid on the set; though they found it difficult at the time, many actors who worked with him acknowledged later that his approach made for fresh and excellent performances.

Buñuel preferred scenes which could simply be pieced together end-to-end in the editing room, resulting in long, mobile, wide shots which followed the action of the scene. Examples are especially present in his French films. For example, at the restaurant / ski resort in Belle de Jour, Séverin, Pierre, and Henri are conversing at a table. Buñuel cuts away from their conversation to two young women who walk down a few steps and proceed through the restaurant, passing behind Séverin, Pierre, and Henri, at which point the camera stops and the young women walk out of frame. Henri then comments on the women and the conversation at the table progresses from there.

Buñuel disliked non-diegetic music, and avoided it in his films. The films of his French era were not scored and some (Belle de Jour, Diary of a Chambermaid) contain absolutely no music whatsoever. Belle de Jour does, however, feature (potentially) non-diegetic sound effects, believed by some to be clues as to whether or not the current scene is a dream.

Filmography (director)
Cet obscur objet du désir ("That Obscure Object of Desire") (1977)
Le fantôme de la liberté ("The Phantom of Liberty") (1974)
Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) (1972)
won Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
Tristana (1970), starring Catherine Deneuve
La Voie Lactée ("The Milky Way") (1969)
Belle de jour (1967), starring Catherine Deneuve
Simón del desierto (1965)
Le journal d'une femme de chambre ("The Diary of a Chambermaid") (1964), starring Jeanne Moreau
El ángel exterminador ("The Exterminating Angel") (1962)
Viridiana (1961), won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival
The Young One (Spanish title "La Joven") (1960, US film in Engish)
La fièvre monte à El Pao (1959), starring Gérard Philipe
Nazarín (1959)
La mort en ce jardin (1956) starring Simone Signoret
Cela s'appelle l'aurore (1955) starring Georges Marchal, Lucia Bosé
El río y la muerte ("The River and the Death") (1955)
Ensayo de un crimen ("Rehearsal for a Crime" or "The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz") (1955)
Robinson Crusoe (Spanish title "Las aventuras de Robinson Crusoe") (1954) starring Daniel O'Herlihy
Abismos de pasión ("Abysses of Passion") (1954)
La ilusión viaja en tranvía ("The Illusion Travels by Streetcar") (1954)
El ("This Strange Passion") (1953)
El bruto ("The Brute") (1953)
Una mujer sin amor ("A Woman Without Love") (1952)
Subida al cielo ("Ascent to Heaven") (1952)
La hija del engaño ("The Daughter of Deceit") (1951)
Susana (1951)
Los olvidados ("The Forgotten") (1950)
El Gran Calavera ("The Great Madcap") (1949)
Gran Casino ("Magnificent Casino") (1946)
España 1936 ("Spain 1936")
Las Hurdes ("Tierra sin Pan" or "Land Without Bread") (1933)
L'Âge d'Or (The Golden Age) (1930)
Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) (1929)


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