Luis Buñuel

From New World Encyclopedia

Luis Buñuel
Date of birth: February 22, 1900
Birth location: Calanda, Teruel, Aragón, Spain
Date of death: July 29, 1983 (aged 83)
Death location: Flag of Mexico Mexico City, Mexico
Academy Awards: Best Original Screenplay
1972 Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie

Best Adapted Screenplay
1977 Cet obscur objet du désir

Spouse: Jeanne Buñuel (1925 - his death)

Luis Buñuel Portolés (February 22, 1900 – July 29, 1983) was a Aragonese Spanish film director, writer, and sometime film producer (producing the films of some other directors) who worked mainly in Mexico and France, but also in his native country and the United States. His films were heavily influenced by surrealism (see the article "Surrealism"), by an anti-clerical and anti-bourgeois stance, by certain kinds of fetishism (e.g., foot fetishims), and by dreams, especially Freudian ones. He is generally considered by knowledgeable film scholars and critics and cineastes to be one of the most important directors in the history of cinema.



Luis Buñuel was born in Calanda, Teruel in the province of Aragón, Spain. This area and its people were heavily Roman Catholic and provincial. His family was bourgeois and at least moderately wealthy and prominent. 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 in Zaragoza, from which he was eventually expelled. Later he went to the 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 Residencia de Estudiantes. 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. He co-wrote with Salvador Dali and then filmed a 16-minute short film Un chien andalou (1929); financing for this film came from his mother. This film, featuring a series of startling and sometimes horrifying images of Freudian nature (such as what appears to be 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. It has been called the greatest or most important short film in cinema history.

He followed this with L'Âge d'Or (1930), partly based on the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom. The film began 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. At the first screening, people set off firecrackers in the theater, an ink bomb was thrown at the screen, and smoke bombs were set off. The right-wing press criticized the film and the police placed a ban on it that lasted 50 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. Bu_uel went himself to this area of Spain and filmed with a hand held camera on short pieces of left over film–what today is called "short ends." During this time Francisco Franco was slowly gaining power in Spain. In 1936, the Spanish Civil War began. 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 from Spain and moved to the United States. He worked for a short time in the film archives of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and then 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. Now out of work in Hollywood, he went back to New York and worked again 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.

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 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 are:

  • 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) freely adapted from 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 filmmaking, 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. It is possibly the best autobiography ever from a film director and certainly one of the more interesting.

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 later came to resent the attention to and fame given to that statement, and almost seemed to repudiate it 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 filmmaker Rafael Buñuel and Juan Luis Buñuel.

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]

Alfred Hitchcock is reported to have said that Buñuel was the greatest of film directors. Buñuel died in Mexico City in 1983.


Bunuel's movies are famous for scenes such as the one in which chickens populate nightmares, a cow appears in a bed, 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 (The Exterminating Angel), 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 surrealist faith longer than any other 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.

Style & Technique

Bunuel has said of his early films made with Dali, "We were against technique, art, meticulous framing, and all that." He has also said of his work, "I don't have ideas; it's all instinct."

Throughout all his work, 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.

As one observer put it, "Buñuel never sucks up to us (the viewers) with his camera." He preferred shots that could simply be pieced together end-to-end in the editing room, resulting in often long, mobile, wide shots that 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.

More than their simple shooting style, however, Buñuel's films are characterized by his surrealism, with its lack of concern for linear or clear plotline. His films will often start with one development, then veer into another, possibly unconnected one—like dreams, the sequences are often not clearly connected with each other. This may seem to be chaotic, but the films are not; they are masterfully constructed by someone who recognizes that life itself does not have a clear or necessarily connected plotline. The films are, broadly-speaking, mostly comedies, but the joke is not broad or hysterical. It is usually understated and presented in a straightforward way. As critic Roger Ebert has put it, "Most of the films of Luis Buñuel are comedies in one way or another, but he doesn't go for gags and punch lines; his comedy is more like a dig in the ribs, sly and painful." (From the review of Discreet Charm.)

Buñuel was a man of the left in the sense that he despised the Catholic Church and the bourgeoisie, and he worked on the side of the left during the Spanish Civil War. Yet he himself was a bourgeois, and his legacy from and dependence on the Catholic religion were never completely broken. He was, of course, fully aware of those contradictions within himself, and they are often embodied in his films. He was as critical of the pieties and stupidities of the left as he was of the brutalities of the right. This is shown, for one important example, in [[Viridiana], when the young novitiate decides to leave her order and work on her farm, opening it to the poor and sick village beggars and making a place for them to live and work there. But then she goes away for a day and the beggars gain entrance to the main house, where they proceed to put on a drunken orgy that devolves into a sacrilegous and wholly destructive version of Da Vinci's Last Supper. They proceed to wreck the place, and two of them attempt to rape her when she returns. Moreover, the viciousness of the beggars in their treatment of each other is as bad as the viciousness with which the bourgeois treat them.

Buñuel recognized that any effort to ameliorate the mistreatment of a living thing is at best provisional, as is shown in another scene in Viridiana where a dog is being forced to run along because it is tied under a horse-drawn cart. When Jorge decides to rescue the dog by buying it from its owner, the scene immediately shifts to another cart running on the same road in the opposite direction, with a dog similarly tied and forced to run along underneath it.

Some Buñuel Films

Viridiana (1961)

Viridiana is concerned with a young novitiate about to take her vows named Viridiana (Silvia Pinal), who is told by her Mother Superior that she should visit her uncle, Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), her only living relative. After some time on his large country estate, he tries to seduce her, believing that she resembles his deceased wife. Hearing of his desire to marry her, Viridiana attempts to flee the house immediately, but is subdued by Jaime and drugged with the help of his servant Ramona. He takes her to her room and considers raping her in her sleep, but decides otherwise.

The next morning he tells her that he took her virginity, and says that therefore she cannot return to her convent. By this means he intends to make her wish to stay, but instead she is disgusted and starts to pack. He tries to rectify the situation by telling her that he lied, hoping it would convince her to stay, but this does little to appease her. He asks for her forgiveness, but she ignores him and leaves the house. She is on the way back to the convent when the authorities stop her, telling her something terrible has happened. Back at the house, her uncle has hanged himself.

Viridiana collects the village paupers, returns to the estate, and installs them in an outbuilding. Shunning the convent, she instead devotes herself to the moral education and feeding of this exceedingly motley group. Meanwhile, Don Jaime's son, Jorge (Francisco Rabal), moves into the house with his girlfriend, Lucia. He, like his father, lusts after Viridiana, who scorns him.

A model of moral rectitude, Viridiana will soon suffer for her good deeds. When they all leave to visit a lawyer in the town, the paupers break into the house, initially just planning to look around. But, faced with such bounty, things degenerate into a drunken, riotous orgy—all to the strains of the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. Posing for a photo (sans camera) around the table, the beggars resemble Da Vinci's Last Supper. This scene, in particular, earned the film the Vatican's opprobrium.

The members of the household return earlier than expected to find the house in shambles; those still able to walk, flee. Upstairs, Viridiana is overpowered by two beggars, and when Jorge arrives on the scene, one pulls a knife on him, another comes from behind, breaking a bottle over his head and knocking him out. Viridiana would surely have been raped except that Jorge, who is tied up, bribes one beggar to kill the other.

Viridiana is a changed woman as the film concludes: her crown of thorns is symbolically burnt. Wearing her hair loosely, she knocks on Jorge's door, but finds Ramona, with Jorge in his bedroom. With "Shake Your Cares Away" on the record player, Jorge tells Viridiana that they were only playing cards, and urges her to join them, a conclusion that is often seen as implying a ménage à trois.[2]

El ángel exterminador (1962)

The Exterminating Angel, presents a fashionable dinner party at the house of a wealthy Mexican after an opera performance. But at the conclusion of the dinner the guests are unable to leave, even though there is no physical barrier preventing their doing so. They stay there for days, and all social order breaks down. They resort to murder and other atrocities. Eventually one of them suggests that they must return to the exact positions they held at the night of the dinner when they should have left, and this enables them to leave. But the final scene then occurs in a church when, after the mass, the officiating bishop and some of the congregants decide to remain in the church, using exactly the same words as the dinner guests had used when they announced that they were not willing to leave the dinner party.

Le journal d'une femme de chambre (1964)

The Diary of a Chambermaid, opens a period of films made in France by Buñuel. The film is an adaptation of the 1900 novel of the same name by Octave Mirbeau. There had already been a film adaptation in 1946, made in Hollywood by Jean Renoir. Buñuel's film lacks the surrealist imagery of his other films. It stars Jeanne Moreau as a chambermaid who discovers her ability to influence the lives of her masters.[3]

Belle de jour (1967)

Belle de jour is concerned with Séverine Serizy, a young, beautiful Paris housewife (played by Catherine Deneuve) who has masochistic daydream fantasies about elaborate floggings and bondage. She is married to a doctor (Jean Sorel) and loves him, but cannot share physical intimacy with him. A male friend mentions a high-class brothel to Séverine, and soon she secretly begins working there during the afternoon (using the pseudonym Belle de jour). The brothel is run by Madame Anaïs, played by Geneviève Page. Séverine will only work up until five o'clock each day, returning to her blissfully unaware husband in the evening.[4]

Her work there eventually ends in tragedy because one of her customers becomes so attached to her that he tries to kill her husband and the husband is wounded and left paralyzed in the attack. As in most of Buñuel's films, there are dream sequences in this one, and it is possible that the entire film is a dream. Also, the ending is highly ambiguous—her husband seems to rise from his wheelchair, healed. Has she dreamed this, or is it real?

Tristana (1970)

Trisana is based on a novel by Benito Pérez Galdós and stars Catherine Deneuve and Fernando Rey. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Tristana is an orphan who has been adopted by a nobleman called Don Lope Garrido. Don Lope falls in love with her and thus treats her as a daughter and wife from the age of 19, a bit of a scandal. By age 21 Tristana starts to find her voice, to demand to study music, art and other subjects with which she wishes to establish her independence. She meets a young artist called Horacio Díaz, falls in love, and eventually leaves Toledo to live with him.

When she becomes ill she moves back in with Don Lope, her previous refuge. Her illness results in her losing one leg, which changes her prospects.

Lope inherits money from his sister, and eventually Tristana marries him. When Lope becomes ill, Tristana finishes him off by feigning to call the doctor and opening the window to the winter cold. By this time she has become jaded like Lope.[5]

Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972)

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, has been described as "a complex, shifting, virtually plotless web of dreams within dreams within dreams"[6] and is about the attempts of a group of upper middle-class people attempting—despite continual interruptions—to eat together. It can be seen as a sequel or reply to The Exterminating Angel because here the eating is always interrupted.

The film is made up of several thematically connected scenes: five gatherings of a group of bourgeois friends, and four dreams dreamt by different characters. The beginning of the film focuses on the gatherings, while the latter part focuses on the dreams, but both types of scenes are intermixed. There are also scenes involving other subjects, such as one about a Latin American terrorist girl from the fictitious Republic of Miranda, and the ambassador of that country using his diplomatic pouch to smuggle illegal drugs—the proceeds form the sale of these drugs seem to be the source of money for this group of bourgeois friends. The film's world is not logical: the bizarre events are accepted by the characters, even if they are impossible or contradictory.

The film begins with a bourgeois couple, the Thévenots, arriving at the house of the Sénéchals, the hosts of a dinner party, but the Sénéchals say the planned supper was for the next day. "But that is impossible," says Mme Thévenot, "I couldn’t have accepted, tomorrow I’m busy." In the next sequence, Mme Sénéchal is invited out to dinner, but she has to change. Finally arriving at the restaurant, the party finds it locked. They knock and are invited in, despite the waitress' seeming reluctance and an ominous mention of "new management." Inside, there are no diners (despite disconcertingly cheap prices) and the sound of wailing voices from an adjoining room. It is learned that the manager died a few hours earlier and his body is in an adjoining room, awaiting the coroner. The party hurriedly leave.

Various other aborted dinners ensue, with interruptions including the arrival of an army of soldiers in the dining room, or the revelation that a restaurant is in fact a stage set in a theatrical performance, during a dream sequence.

The film ends with the four couples walking silently on a road towards a mysterious destination.

This film was made when Buñuel was 72-years-old. Most directors make their best films early and thereafter repeat themselves, but in this case Buñuel was at the height of his powers and of his self-assurance, and those seemed to increase as he aged. It is, arguably, Buñuel's best film. It also depicts the bourgeois in all their shallowness, yet Buñuel almost seems here to have become accustomed to their pretensions. It is a sly dig at them, but done in such a gentle way and so much without fanfare or hysteria that Buñuel could almost be said to have come to love them in the same way a herpetologist might come to love poisonous snakes.

The film received the 1972 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It also became quite popular and made a substantial amount of money.

Le fantôme de la liberté (1974)

The Phantom of Liberty was Bunuel's next film. After the success of Discreet Charm, Buñuel and his writer, Jean-Claude Carrière, got the chance to make anything they wanted. Their effort was to create a film that thwarts all the conventions of narrative storytelling, and the result was another surrealistic masterpiece. Stories start, and veer off into something else unrelated. There are many things that have the vaguest connection with anything before or after. The most noteworthy scene of the film concerns a schoolgirl who is supposed to be missing at school. Her parents are notified and they rush to the school, where the schoolmistress takes the roll. The girl is there and responds and even speaks to her parents who acknowledge her presence. But still everyone says she is missing. She accompanies her parents to the police station where they will report her missing, and even gives her information herself to the police captain taking down the information about her and looking at her as he does so. Another notable scene has guests at a bourgeois house meeting and sitting together on toilets to converse. But when anyone becomes hungry, he goes secretly to the mistress of the house and is shown to a small room—like a bathroom—where he receives a plate of food from a closed cabinet and eats it alone in the small bathroom-like room.

Cet obscur objet du désir (1977)

That Obscure Object of Desire, Buñuel's last film, presents one man's attempts to deal with the complexities of sexual desire, passion, and obsession. The obscure object of his desire is played by two different actresses, who alternate between scenes, and even change within a scene.

The movie begins with Mathieu (Fernando Rey), a middle-aged, wealthy Frenchman, traveling by train from Seville to Paris. He's trying to distance himself from his young girlfriend, Conchita (Carol Bouquet, Angela Molina), whose belongings—including a pillow bloodied by a nosebleed and soiled panties—he destroys. As Mathieu's train is ready to depart he finds that a bruised and bandaged Conchita is pursuing him. From the train he pours a bucket of water over her head. He believes this deters her, but she sneaks aboard the train. The rude act is witnessed by his fellow coach-cabin passengers who include a mother and her young daughter, a judge who is coincidentally a friend of Mathieu's cousin, and a psychologist suffering from dwarfism (Another nice Buñuelian touch!). They inquire about his motivation for such an act and he then explains, in flashbacks, the history of his tumultuous relationship with Conchita, an impoverished but beautiful flamenco dancer from Seville. The story is set against a disturbing backdrop of terrorist bombings and shootings.

Conchita, who claims to be 18 but looks closer to 25, vows to remain a virgin until marriage, yet she tantalizes Mathieu with sexual promises, however never allows him to satisfy his sexual desire for her. At one point she goes to bed with him wearing what appear to be a pair of tightly laced canvass knickers, making it impossible for the couple to have sexual intercourse. Conchita's antics cause the couple to break up and reunite repeatedly, each time leaving Mathieu confused and frustrated.

Eventually, Mathieu finds Conchita dancing nude for tourists in a Seville nightclub. After becoming enraged, Mathieu forgives her and buys her a home. The movie's climax arrives when, soon after moving into the home, Conchita tells Mathieu that she hates him and that kissing and touching him make her sick. She then appears to have sex with a young man in full view of Mathieu to prove her independence from him.

Astoundingly, after this, Conchita attempts to reconcile with Matthieu, insisting that the sex was fake and that her "lover" is in reality a homosexual friend. However, during her explanation, Mathieu beats her, resulting in her bandaged and bruised state earlier in the film (as well as the bloody pillow).

Just as the fellow train passengers seem satisfied with this story, Conchita reappears from hiding on the train and dumps a bucket of water on Mathieu. After the train deboards the couple apparently reconciles yet again and is seen walking together, arm-in-arm, enjoying themselves on the streets of Paris.

A public announcement is broadcast alerting that a strange alliance of extreme leftist groups, including the P.O.P., the P.R.I.Q.U.E. and the R.U.T. together with the Revolutionary Army of the Baby Jesus, intend to sow a state of confusion in society through terrorist attacks. The announcement adds that several right-wing groups plan to counterattack.

As the couple continues their walk they notice a seamstress in a shop window mending a bloody veil. They begin arguing just as a bomb explodes, apparently claiming their lives.[7]

Buñuel's Legacy

Buñuel has frequently been called one of world cinema's greatest masters. He is not so well known in the English speaking world today, but he is still widely known in Spain and Latin America, where all artists and filmmakers can be said to be in his debt and shadow. His films have not lost their power and do not seem dated today, as do those of many of his contemporaries. They are almost as fresh as when they were new, and they retain their power to shock, provoke, amuse, and challenge all viewers. Buñuel could be said to be the most honest of film directors in that he does not compromise with the truth as he saw it—in all its irrational qualities—in order to gain his viewers' assent, attention, agreement, or affection. There is no one else in cinema like him, and no other films that are just like his.

"Though the Church and bourgeoisie were his prime targets, beggars might be thieves and rapists, blind men paedophiles, virginal cripples harridans, and housewives afternoon whores; all were calmly and coolly examined as if insects under the microscope, with the fascinated, bemused Buñuel never hammering home a moral sermon, but merely revealing, in a strange spirit of sympathy, the fundamental comedy of the human condition. He was, in short, one of cinema's greatest, most unassertive masters."—Geoff Andrew (The Director's Vision, 1999)

Awards & Nominations

Luis Buñuel was given the Career Golden Lion in 1982 by the Venice Film Festival and the FIPRESCI Prize - Honorable Mention in 1969 by the Berlin Film Festival.


Feature Films

  • L'Âge d'Or (1930)
    • The Golden Age
  • España 1936 (1936)
    • Spain
  • Gran Casino (1946)
    • Magnificent Casino
  • El Gran Calavera (1949)
    • The Great Madcap
  • Los olvidados (1950)
    • The Forgotten
  • Susana (1951)
  • La hija del engaño (1951)
    • The Daughter of Deceit
  • Subida al cielo (1952)
    • Ascent to Heaven
  • Una mujer sin amor (1952)
    • A Woman Without Love
  • El bruto (1953)
    • The Brute
  • El (1953)
    • This Strange Passion
  • La ilusión viaja en tranvía (1954)
    • The Illusion Travels by Streetcar
  • Abismos de pasión (1954)
    • Abysses of Passion
  • Robinson Crusoe (1954)
    • Las aventuras de Robinson Crusoe

  • Ensayo de un crimen (1955)
    • Rehearsal for a Crime or The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz
  • El río y la muerte (1955)
    • The River and the Death
  • Cela s'appelle l'aurore (1955)
  • La mort en ce jardin (1956)
  • Nazarín (1959)
  • La fièvre monte à El Pao (1959)
  • The Young One (1960)
    • La Joven
  • Viridiana (1961)
  • El ángel exterminador (1962)
    • The Exterminating Angel
  • Le journal d'une femme de chambre (1964)
    • The Diary of a Chambermaid
  • Simón del desierto (1965)
    • "Simon of the Desert"
  • Belle de jour (1967)
  • La Voie Lactée (1969)
    • The Milky Way
  • Tristana (1970)
  • Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972)
    • The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
  • Le fantôme de la liberté (1974)
    • The Phantom of Liberty
  • Cet obscur objet du désir (1977)
    • That Obscure Object of Desire

Short Films

  • Un chien andalou (1929)
    • An Andalusian Dog
  • Las Hurdes (1933) Documentary
    • Land Without Bread
  • Simón del desierto (1965)


  1. American Masters: George Cukor
  2. Viridiana, Wikipedia. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  3. Diary of a Chambermaid, Wikipedia. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  4. Belle de Jour, Wikipedia. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  5. Tristana, Wikipedia. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  6. Michael Brooke, "Plot Summary for Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie," The Internet Movie Database, IMDB. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  7. The Obscure Object of Desire, Wikipedia. Retrieved February 5, 2009.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Andrew, Geoff, with a foreword by Ethan and Joel Coen. The Director's Vision: A Concise Guide to the Art of 250 Great Filmmakers, Chicago, IL: A Cappella; Distributed by Independent Publishers Group, 1999. ISBN 1556523661 .
  • Bunuel Bibliography (via UC Berkeley). The Library, University of California. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  • Buñuel biography. Concrete Publications. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  • Colina, José de la, and Tomás Pérez Turrent, Paul Lenti (ed. and trans.). Objects of Desire, Conversations with Luis Buñuel. New York: Marsilio Publishers, 1992. ISBN 0941419681 Cloth); ISBN 094141968X (paper).
  • Durgnat, Raymind. Luis Buñuel. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977. ISBN 0520034236 (cloth); ISBN 0520034244 (paper).
  • Koller, Michael. Un Chien Andalou. senses of cinema January 2001.
  • Kyrou, Ado. Luis Buñuel: An Introduction. Translated by Adrienne Foulke, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.
  • López, Ignacio Javier. The Old Age of William Tell (A study of Buñuel's Tristana). MLN 116 (2001): 295–314.
  • Mellen, Joan (ed.). The World of Luis Bu_uel: Essays in Criticism, New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. ISBN 0195023986 ISBN 0195023994 (pbk.)
  • Sandro, Paul. Diversions of Pleasure: Luis Buñuel and the Crises of Desire, Columbus OH: Ohio State University Press, 1987. ISBN 0814204333 .

External links

All links retrieved November 4, 2022.


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