Luis Buñuel

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Basil Wright

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484

[The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz] is in many respects a very remarkable film. It is a comédie noire in which the director may have taken himself more seriously than he originally intended. Like all Bunuel's films, it maintains an identity of atmosphere from beginning to end, and in its crucial moments produces the horror which lies behind the farces of life and human behaviour. Viewed in relation to the canon of his work, this film confirms a growing belief that the so-called iconoclasms of L'Age d'Or, and the apparently deliberate shock-tactics in many of his films, represent in fact a quite simple outlook on life—the philosophy, in fact, of Luis Bunuel. (p. 87)

I would suspect—no, I believe—that Bunuel is a very simple man who expresses himself according to his beliefs about human beings and their behaviour. He would not accept Gide's Lafcadio, but he would create the same character in his own terms; and the acte gratuite would become a piece of Bunuel reportage….

[In Archibaldo] Bunuel has filmed one of his ideas; and because he has a supremely logical mind, he has stripped his story of everything except those images which truly concern the matter in hand. You may not agree with the original idea—but you are bound to admire the absolute integrity with which it is carried out in movie terms.

It is the screen image which counts; and Bunuel, often unpredictably, is a master of the screen image. All through this film the camera is placed, casually but correctly, in the obvious position…. Anyone could choose a Bunuel camera-angle, but few could match him in the building-up of a sequence. He uses a sharp knife. He has never handled a bludgeon.

This is what makes Archibaldo so fascinating. It expresses one simple story idea. It goes straight ahead, sequence by sequence, and it never loiters or takes a wrong turning. It isn't a deep psychological drama and it isn't a whodunit. It just says, "supposing a small boy grows up to think that he is literally a lady-killer—all because his governess is shot dead before his eyes while he is playing an elaborate musical box given him by his rich and doting parents."… Well, just supposing. And Bunuel goes right ahead and supposes. That poor chap Archibaldo goes on trying to kill women, and fate and/or coincidence always forestall him. It is pathetic and funny, and in a curious way true; because we are all of us trying all the time to adjust our secret personal life to the life we have to lead, and, however outré the plot of this particular film may be, Bunuel's knife is bound to tickle our ribs. (p. 88)

Basil Wright, "Film Reviews: 'The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1955 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 25, No. 2, Autumn, 1955, pp. 87-8.

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